Witness – Introducing Jill

COVID-19! Just say or see the word, and an avalanche of thoughts, images, and emotions come to mind. It has changed the way we do and think about almost everything. Yet, most of us have not experienced the virus first hand. It makes it difficult to understand why such drastic measures have been taken to prevent its spread. More than 6,000,000 people in the United States have had coronavirus. Fewer than half have fully recovered, and 192,000 people have died. Despite the numbers, some question whether it is a hoax, a liberal plot, or a media event.

Jill is a survivor of COVID-19 and has witnessed the reality of the virus both personally and professionally. Jill is the Executive Director of Pioneer Resources, Inc., in Muskegon, Michigan. The organization provides a multitude of services, including low-cost housing to Seniors and people with disabilities.

On March 22, 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a shelter in place order for the State of Michigan. Chaos erupted. Panic buying at grocery stores left shelves empty as people prepared for the unknown. Non-essential employees were furloughed or began to work from home. Students shifted quickly to online learning. And, organizations like Pioneer Resources were trying to determine how to move forward safely.

Jill and the management team at Pioneer Resources quickly learned and responded as new information regarding COVID-19 became available. Protecting staff and residents became their highest priority. PPE’s were in short supply and difficult to obtain. Jill worked quickly to locate new sources that could meet supply needs. Luke Aurner, Regional Healthcare Coalition Coordinator of the Muskegon Health Department, and a few other organizations around the state that Jill is in membership with coordinated and provided the necessary PPE so that the staff of Pioneer Resources could continue to provide services and remain safe.

Despite their best efforts, beginning in early April, the housing units were hit hard with the virus. Both residents and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Symptoms ran the gamut from mild to severe. One resident was in the hospital in rehab for over two months, and unfortunately, the virus even took lives.

During the early stages of the pandemic, the protocol was to separate those that displayed symptoms from the general population. Sadly, by the time an individual’s symptoms appeared, the virus had already spread to others.

During the same time, a resident attempted to get tested due to a high fever but was denied testing and sent home. Under a recent order of The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, anyone living in a congregate setting was to be prioritized for testing. However, the order escaped the notice of the testing center. Policies were changing quickly, and it was difficult for healthcare providers to keep up with the onslaught of new information. A shortage of COVID-19 test kits in Muskegon County compounded the issue and made it impossible to provide tests to everyone that wanted or needed one.

The following day the resident’s fever had worsened. There was no question that the resident needed to be tested and treated for his illness. However, Jill feared that the testing site would turn the resident away for a second time. Jill contacted one of the hospital directors to voice her concerns and provide him with the information related to the new policy. Jill’s advocacy opened the door to testing not only for the Pioneer Resources resident but for all others living in a congregate setting that utilized the testing site.

On April 11, 2020, dressed in full PPE except for goggles, Jill accompanied the resident to the hospital to ensure that testing was completed. He was tested and, as suspected, he was positive for COVID-19. On April 17, 2020, pale, coughing, and barely audible, Jill read the scripture from her devotional live on Facebook as she had done so many other mornings. After reading the verse, she briefly shared that she had tested positive for the virus. Then, despite her weakened state, she turned her focus back to God and completed reading her devotional.

Jill’s faith sustains her, and she feels guided by God’s presence in every moment. She thinks that there is a reason for all things that happen to us—in her case, even getting COVID-19.

Jill describes COVID as a nasty, nasty virus and that she would not wish it upon her worst enemy. It felt unending and was worse than pneumonia or bronchitis. Jill’s fever lasted ten days, and she describes the chills that accompanied it as tooth chattering. Her cough was painful, and her constant companion. Jill did not require hospitalization but monitored her oxygen and used an inhaler to decrease coughing and increase breathing. After two weeks, she experienced a depression that left her crying and wondering if it would ever end. At three weeks, Jill was able to leave the house but still suffered from a cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Months later, the symptoms persist.

Jill worked from home throughout her illness. She felt as the leader of an agency in crisis, she felt as though it was the right thing to do. Working helped her to focus on matters outside her own suffering.

Jill’s husband also contracted the illness. Jill often feels guilty for unwittingly bringing the virus home. He suffered as much as she did with the added strain of having difficulty getting clearance to return to work. But as Jill looks back, she believes she would have done everything the same way. Serving God and her community is who Jill is, not what she does. Turning away is not an option.

Some of the benefits she has seen as a result of the pandemic include people gardening, families experiencing quality time together, and learning that we can work effectively remotely. Jill notes that we are learning to connect in new and old ways. In Jill’s case, friends and neighbors did what they could to help her and her husband during their illness. Daily, people brought groceries, meals, and cards.

As an agency, she feels that the pandemic forced them to update and create better systems. Improvements include everything from enhanced digital records to a concrete and realistic emergency protocol that will benefit all those that work for and utilize services provided by Pioneer Resources. Lastly, it made her increasingly aware and grateful for a fantastic management team.

Jill does not believe that herd immunity is the answer. Jill worries about the children and grandparents. She encourages everyone to be cautious and stay safe until we can begin immunization. What that looks like for individuals and families might be different. It might be staying home and not wearing a mask. Or, it could be being out in public while wearing a mask. She admits, masks are not comfortable, but that we will adjust. She compares it to seatbelts and other safety devices. We don’t like the change, but we adjust.

Jill, it is with sincere thanks that I close this post. Your passion for serving those in need is nothing less than inspirational. Even if you never spoke of God or Jesus, your faith is transparent in the way you conduct your life. Your willingness to share your COVID-19 journey places a real person behind the illness. Hopefully, people will go forward with greater awareness, compassion, and empathy for others.

More information about Pioneer Resources

Pioneer Resources provides a blend of services to seniors and people with disabilities based upon need. Services include housing that ranges from independent living to 24-hour care, job training, and placement, a camp that serves both day and overnight guests, and an ABA program for children diagnosed with autism. They also provide senior activities and teach general living skills.

Pioneer Resources has served Muskegon County for over 65 years. Last year 3500 people received assistance and over one million miles of transportation given. Most of the funding used to provide services comes from Medicaid. However, they offer far more than medical services to the community. Like so many helping organizations, they have lost much funding this year. Please consider a donation today.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/pioneer-resources?pc=fb_co_campmgmt_w&rcid=r01-158522512145-00c99b7c2e0e45ba&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=p_lico%2Bshare-sheet&fbclid=IwAR3ZgiBv7YkFYvb6RLhdC-UODHPRcJxQPxW1tonpKue2ZGSItid9k8fVUaM

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Purchase Gail’s photography a Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

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4 Comments

  1. Reply
    Jeannie Selby September 8, 2020

    I’m grateful for people like jil that don’t give up on our most vulnerable populations. I’ve heard many stories like this and have experienced both covid personally and with residents where I work and the death of a friend and coworker.

    • Reply
      Gail Howarth September 8, 2020

      Jill is a blessing to so many. I am grateful for your service, too, Jeannie. And, I am sorry for your suffering with COVID and the loss of your friend. Thank for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  2. Reply
    June Link September 8, 2020

    Wonderful organization Pioneer Resources. So proud of our daughter.
    Jack and June Link

    • Reply
      Gail Howarth September 8, 2020

      It is, indeed, a wonderful organization. Your daughter is a gift to so many. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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