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Kelly Moterio (Photo Credit: David Benthal)

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the East End with sudden devastation, local health care workers stepped up to keep us safe. In this weeklong series ahead of the Thanksgiving season, we’re proud to highlight their work and show them our gratitude.

Kelly Moteiro | Director of nursing, San Simeon by the Sound

Growing up in Farmingville, Kelly Moteiro always wanted to be a nurse. And by age 18 she was working in a nursing home. “I went to work in a hospital for a little while, but I missed long-term care — hearing the stories of the lives that they lived and being able to make a difference,” she said at her office at San Simeon by the Sound in Greenport, where she’s been director of nursing for the past four years. 

Kelly Moterio (Photo Credit: David Benthal)

“This is like nothing any of us ever dreamed. We shut down visitation on March 10, before it was mandated. I came out here and stayed in the motel across the street for two and a half months without going home at all. Now I go home on the weekends and maybe a night or two during the week, but I still stay out here across the street. I have a 19-year-old daughter in college and my husband is at home, but they know my job. I felt like I can’t ask my staff to go the extra mile unless I live it with them. 

The residents, too, are isolated. We have visiting again, but it’s by appointment and it’s different. And it’s already over six months of living this. That’s just crazy. But we have been blessed and lucky here. It’s hard work — plus definite luck — that we have never in the whole time had any resident with COVID. 

We were on the national news. My brother was like, ‘You’re the only good news in this whole situation.’ At the same time, I felt bad: The directors of nursing at these other facilities are some of my closest friends and my heart breaks for what they went through. They had freezer trucks in their parking lot because they couldn’t even store all the bodies. they’ll never be the same. 

We’re a nonprofit. So when the governor mandated that nursing homes take COVID patients, I didn’t have ownership telling me, ‘You have to, because they tripled the Medicare rate.’ Some people see an executive order from a governor and think, Oh, I have to do it. But I guess I’m different. 

I do believe it was in nursing homes already, brought in by the staff, but that order didn’t help. I had a lot of fights with case managers at the hospitals, but I said, ‘I have nowhere to put these patients and I don’t have the staff to take care of them. So I’m not infecting my healthy facility. Tell the governor to come out here himself to my front door.’ I’m stubborn in that way.

The people here are my family and I refuse to infect this place. 

Kelly Moterio

The amount of support we got was insane: messages, cards, food, gifts for the staff. Claudio’s restaurant sent their DJ on Memorial Day, and it was the first time that the residents were really outside and they just loved it. It’s such a tight community and the support was beautiful to see — and it was appreciated by everybody, staff and residents.

I’m truly lucky with such amazing staff that they understand what we’ve accomplished and understand that our efforts are not just for a gold star. It’s because people are alive. Even though I didn’t live the devastation others did, it definitely changed me as a person. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so much and looked at life just very differently. I think Mother’s Day was when it hit me the most. I was looking around at all the ladies and I thought, they’re here. And so many other places, you can’t say that.”