Getting the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine was an emotional experience for local assisted living facility employee Jessica Pacora.
The 26-year-old resident care manager at Touchmark at Fairway Village recently received the Pfizer vaccine along with 278 caretakers and residents.
“That was such a moving and powerful day. I’m going to cry when I talk about it,” Pacora said, her voice cracking.
“The turnout of the residents was amazing,” she said after taking a moment to collect her thoughts. “I’m really hopeful that this vaccine will allow my residents to get their lives back.”
Pacora, a Vancouver native and licensed practical nurse, oversees care at the east Vancouver retirement community. She coordinates activities for residents, helps them with doctors appointments and communicates with their family members.
During the pandemic, Pacora’s job has been especially difficult. Older adults are vulnerable to the COVID-19 and account for a higher percentage of deaths in Clark County. Assisted living facilities account for three percent of all cases as a source of exposure. Many of those residents have been isolated and unable to be physically close to their families.
Pacora is thankful there has only been one identified case at Touchmark.
“We went 10 months into this pandemic without any cases among residents. We did end up, so far, only having one resident who got it,” she said. “The symptoms were mild, they were able to recover.”
The Columbian caught up with Pacora to learn more.
What has your job been like during the pandemic? How did it change from before?
We do everything from independent living all the way through memory care. Since we’re a retirement community, we put a lot of emphasis on activities with residents. Friday night dinner socials, live music. We had a whole activities team to plan activities throughout the week. Since the pandemic started, we’ve had to stop pretty much all of that. There was a chunk of time when the residents couldn’t even leave their apartments to go to the dining room. But we’ve been working hard to find ways to enrich their time spent here. We made an outdoor shelter that’s heated to visit with one family member that’s compliant with state guidelines. We’ve found ways to do socially distant activities, like having fitness trainers do exercises from the doorway to their room. Any way we can keep these individuals active and thriving — it’s their retirement years, they should be having a great time.
It sounds like you spend a good deal of time talking directly with residents. How has the pandemic impacted them emotionally — any issues of isolation, for instance?
I’ve seen it take a toll. These residents are some of the strongest people I’ve ever met — they’ve been through so much in their lives. For the first time, I’ve seen some of them break down in tears. It’s hard to see. You want to wrap them up in a big hug and help them feel better. But you can’t replace someone’s family member. I’m hopeful that as vaccines move out and move through this new year, we’ll be able to start having their families come back in and enrich their lives further.
What attracted you to this line of work?
In my senior year of high school, my grandpa got sick and he had a stroke. He was in the hospital pretty much unresponsive. I sat down to talk with his nurse at the time; she asked me what I was interested in. I told her I was thinking about care giving. She looked at me, and in front of my grandpa, said, “Don’t do that, it’s a dirty job.” My grandpa, his eyes flicked right open and he gave her the meanest look I had ever seen him give anyone. It was in that moment I knew I wanted to be a nurse, because I wanted to give people the care they deserve. I don’t want people to be cared for by someone who has that outlook. When I have hard days, I think of that moment.
There has been some discussion out there about the callousness around older adults and COVID-19. Have you heard anything like that and what are your thoughts?
I’ve definitely heard my fair share of comments of like, “Well, if they’re vulnerable, why don’t they stay inside so we can live our lives?” That’s really difficult to hear, especially as someone who works with people in retirement living because these people have so much wisdom to share. Their lives should be just as valued at the end of their lives as it is in the beginning of their lives. I think in this pandemic, people aren’t thinking about the fact that people in retirement living are still people. They still have the same wants, desires and needs as someone in their 20s would have. You can’t lock up all your nurses, doctors and caregivers taking care of this population, as well. It’s a challenge, but I think people really need to take a step back and think “What would I want for my parent, grandparent or great grandparent?”
Have employees or residents at Touchmark at Fairway Village gotten vaccinated yet?
Yes, so we have two parts of the building: licensed and unlicensed. Licensed got their vaccines a couple weeks ago. They’re coming back to get their second dose. The turnout of the residents was amazing. We told them we were starting at 11 a.m. and we had a socially distant line at 9 a.m. They were so ready. We kept telling them go home we’ll come back to get you when it’s time. The cheers and support, you could feel the energy moving the building that day. It brought us a lot of hope. I’m really hopeful that this vaccine will allow my residents to get their lives back.
WORKING IN CLARK COUNTY
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