New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
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Brooklyn-born Steve Greenbaum, 64, is a gregarious bear of a man with a big voice and a booming laugh. As director of management at Charles H. Greenthal, he oversees a portfolio of 60 buildings and personally manages five. In his 35 years in the management business, he has never missed a day of work. That nearly changed earlier this year.
Habitat: So you came down with COVID-19?
Greenbaum: On Sunday, March 15th, my wife and I both had symptoms – shortness of breath, headaches, body aches, fever, typical flulike symptoms. Monday we felt even worse. Everywhere in the news we were hearing about the virus, the virus, the virus. On Tuesday, even though we were in the throes of it, we went to one of these walk-in urgent-care facilities.
By Wednesday, we knew we had a real problem. My fever started spiking, the headaches came on, body aches were nonstop, and then the chills started. Thursday the test results came back that we both had COVID-19. They told us we should try to recover at home. That was at the time when they were talking about not having enough ventilators, people were waiting in line to get into hospitals. It was just when the madness really started.
Habitat: Were you scared?
Greenbaum: Yeah, absolutely terrified. There was one night when I really did think I should call an ambulance. The first eight days were really bad, four days were extremely bad, then I came slowly down off the peak. We were very nervous because we heard about all the people dying.
Habitat: How did the buildings manage without you?
Greenbaum: Well, as crazy as it was, I continued to work. I still had to deal with residents, employees, an executive team in my company. A lot of people were relying on us. And so every day I mustered up the strength to get on conference calls and make phone calls and talk to supers and board members, turn out documents. At the peak, I'll never forget that, I had a board meeting at 7 o'clock and I was on the phone until 8:30 p.m. That was actually one of my worst nights, and I think I would have recovered faster if I weren’t working. But I don't take sick days.
Habitat: Don’t you think it might have been a little crazy to keep working when you’re that sick?
Greenbaum: Absolutely. Well, you got to be crazy to be in this business! This business doesn't stop because you call in sick. I got tested for antibodies, and I’ve got a lot of them. Now I hear this misconception, “Oh, well, if you had it once, you can't get it again.” That's not the science. The science says maybe you can. So I'm still exercising extreme caution, and I think everybody should act cautiously. This is not a joke. I’m lucky to be here to talk about it. I look at the numbers, and I could’ve been one of those people at the hospital who end up in a refrigerator truck.
Habitat: Has this crisis increased your workload?
Greenbaum: This is an extremely difficult time for property managers and our business. It’s not only the increased workload. It's emotional, it's psychological, it's physical, and it's even financial because some people can't pay bills. So it's a very trying time. Buildings have to get disinfected four or five times a day. In some buildings we added additional staff just to do extra cleaning because we really believe that's one way to stop the virus. We had one building where six out of eight employees came down with the virus, and we had to find temporary people to come in to help clean and do the work. You’ve got to get their background checked and then make sure those people coming into your buildings had no symptoms. There’s a rigorous checklist. So that added another layer of things we need to deal with.
Habitat: Does your own experience with COVID-19 influence the way you deal with buildings?
Greenbaum: I've been preaching this from the beginning, and I’m still preaching it: In a crisis, you either become a hero or a zero. You can do nothing; then you are nothing. Or you can rise above it and do your job and help the people, and you become a hero. At Greenthal we have a task force. We send out email blasts, get out memos, put up signs – “No Mask, No Entry.” We keep the shareholders, residents and owners up to date with what’s going on. As I said, this is a situation where you either turn out to be a hero or a zero.
Habitat: Did your workload also increase because more people are staying home?
Greenbaum: COVID-19 has created a huge uptick in what we call quality-of-life complaints. There are noise complaints because people are at home 24 hours a day in a small one-bedroom apartment. We're getting smoke complaints – cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke, cigar smoke, cooking smoke. And then we also get people screaming at each other within their own apartment. We say: "If you think it's domestic abuse, call the police. We're not the police. Don't call management if you think somebody's going to kill somebody.”
Habitat: Do you think people recognize the heroic efforts of building staffs and property managers?
Greenbaum: I think that the people who work in this industry have definitely been heroes during this time. I'm not comparing us to the doctors and nurses, but we haven't stopped. We've been essential workers from Day 1, and we keep going. So we should be recognized as part of that heroic group of people that the city talks about when they say you're essential workers or you're heroes. And we should be treated as such.
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