Keeping It Light:
In a year when many people barely left the house, PioneerCare employees continued their work to serve medically vulnerable people and tested for COVID-19 almost every week since the spring of 2020. When conditions required it, testing frequency reached twice weekly. Employees came in for testing on their days off, too. Working or not, they tested.
Residents living within PioneerCare Center have required repeated testing as well. PioneerCare’s aggressive approach to testing helped catch cases, especially with asymptomatic people, before infection could spread further.
Kirstin Phillips, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and trained medication assistant (TMA) at PioneerCare, found a way to make testing day even more involved for herself – and more fun for everyone.
“For work, I wear scrubs all the time and it gets kind of boring,” Kirstin said. “I was counting how many times I got tested and thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to dress up’ and that’s how it started.” By Kirstin’s count, she has been swabbed for the virus 34 times so far.
In her effort to lighten the mood on each testing day, Kirstin got an idea for a costume, found things around the house to put together a costume, and hunted down missing pieces on Amazon and in second-hand shops.
“I did the big, fancy ones on my days off,” Kirstin said, “especially the ones involving hair.” On her workdays, she changed into the simpler costumes once she arrived. In August, Kirstin went to COVID-19 testing day as the Parkers Prairie Fall Festival Queen, a role she was officially crowned for as a senior in high school. “I still put on the crown for my birthday – Queen for a day!”
Kirstin showed up in costume by herself for the most part. Some ideas required more than one person. “I conned a few people into going along with me for some of them,” she said. Fall Festival Queen, Wonder Woman, The Incredibles, prom dates, Marty McFly from Back to the Future, Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians, Where’s Waldo, a butterfly, Rosie the Riveter – inspiration came from many directions.
“For Rosie the Riveter, I put my hair in foam curlers the night before and slept that way. That made it easier in the morning.”
Residents enjoyed seeing Kirstin’s costumes and she noted how it brightened their day. Staff repeatedly asked, “What are you going to do next?”
“What is next” has been a recurring question with the pandemic. Moving through the pandemic has been a series of overlapping phases as the virus spread in our communities, as knowledge of the virus grew, and as resources developed and became available. While details change, testing, visitor restrictions, and infection control have been a constant at PioneerCare.
“Our testing strategy is important to identify cases early enough to stop the potential spread within our buildings,” said Nathan Johnson, PioneerCare’s CEO. “Testing, along with vigilant attention to prevention measures, is helping us focus on our number one priority to protect residents and staff within PioneerCare Center, Pioneer Cottages Memory Care, and Pioneer Pointe.”
“Since the beginning, we have practiced comprehensive infection control measures to protect our residents and staff, based on recommended COVID-19 guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” Johnson said.
Now, following that guidance and with coronavirus vaccines available, PioneerCare residents and employees experienced their first vaccine dose on January 9. The second dose is expected in early February. PioneerCare has partnered with CVS Pharmacies to provide the vaccine developed by Moderna.
Residents and staff at Pioneer Cottages in Breckenridge expect to receive their first dose on Sunday, January 17. At Pioneer Cottages and Pioneer Pointe, vaccine distribution is set for Saturday, January 23.
Kirstin arrived for her first vaccine dose wearing fishnet stockings, a 1920s flapper dress, a string of pearls, and feathers in her hair. The day was busy with staff coming and going, and almost all residents received their vaccine as well. While Kirstin and other PioneerCare staff and residents completed the first round of vaccinations, testing and some form of visiting restrictions may continue for some time. Testing will continue at least into February, when participants receive the second vaccine dose.
PioneerCare will continue to follow available guidance from health agencies in decisions related to continued testing, infection control, visiting policies, and vaccine administration.
In June, it will be 16 years since Kirstin joined PioneerCare. In that time, she has cultivated close relationships with residents, their families, and her coworkers. Acknowledging her work is important, serious, and can be stressful at times, Kirstin addressed the role humor plays in her workday. “They say if you enjoy doing what you do, it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.”
And lightening the mood is part of Kirstin’s style. It has become even more important during this past year. “We can laugh. We can have a good time. If I can make you giggle, even for a second, isn’t that better?”