Jennifer Clarke of Maimonides: Balancing work and family in the centre of the COVID storm

Jennifer Clarke, program coordinator at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre.

The Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Côte St. Luc, managed by CIUSSS West-Central Montreal’s Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors — SAPA, has been a centre of this year’s COVID storm, in both the first and second waves of the pandemic.

Outbreaks took place both in the spring and this fall, leading to infections and deaths. The outbreak this past fall affecting staff and residents resulted in Maimonides residents being among the first in Canada to receive the recently approved Pfizer vaccine.

Working at the centre of this health maelstrom has been Jennifer Clarke, program coordinator at Maimonides for the last three years. Her responsibility is to ensure the safety and quality of care for all Maimonides residents, a daunting task at best in the face of a virulent virus.

“Ms. Clarke’s dedication and hard work demonstrate the commitment she brings with her every day, for the sole purpose of delivering the highest quality of care to Maimonides residents,” says a CIUSSS West-Central statement.

Clarke told The Suburban her many years of experience as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in long-term care and Registered Nurse at the Jewish General Hospital was valuable in dealing with the situation at Maimonides

“That came into play — we did have to move away from a ‘milieu de vie’ model of care, which is typically what we have in long-term care, a home-like environment, but my experience as a clinical nurse specialist really helped me to bring in more of that medicalized model. I was able to bring those experiences and that way of practicing into long-term care.”

Clarke added that the situation “did bring teams together, there was an atmosphere of adrenaline and people had to just do what they needed to do to make sure that our residents were well cared for and safe.”

However, “as this pandemic went on, there was this fatigue, this sense of powerlessness, almost. We had everything in place we needed to do, and yet, we still had residents becoming positive, and the staff were struggling with the fears for their families and themselves, and the concerns we had for the individuals we were caring for.

“This has definitely been a period of mixed feelings for everybody.”

Clarke said she and the staff provided updates to the obviously fearful residents.

“We were very transparent about what we were doing, the processes that we were putting in place, giving them support about what are the best practices, why we’re doing what we’re doing, what are the recommendations in terms of infection control— it was about communication and ensuring that they were in the loop at every step about what was going on.”

Providing a morale boost to a fearful staff was also necessary.

“In meeting staff often, being present with them on the units, you’re really helping them through every step of the way. Myself and the management team were part of the ‘every day,’ caring for the residents, so that was very helpful. And also just listening to their concerns, being there to support them emotionally, just as we did with families and the residents here.”

Clarke herself had to deal with not only the fear of contracting COVID, but balancing work and family in such a unique situation. She is a wife and mother of three children — two boys aged six and 10, and a eight-year-old girl.

“There was a period of time where I actually slept in my basement,” Clarke pointed out. “The level of exposure I had at that point was too great at the beginning of the first wave, and we weren’t really sure to a great extent about the virus at that time. That was hard, and you’re trying to manage your own personal life and the people you love and your work life, also with people I love.

“The approach I took was, really, anything I did at work would be something I would do for my own family, being supportive and listening to their concerns.”

Clarke says this time has been difficult for her family.

“I could not have done this without the support of my partner — my husband is home with the kids and he’s working as well, but he pretty much took over everything,” she pointed out. “There are days where I would come home at midnight and the kids would be asleep, and I would leave at 6 a.m. and the kids would be asleep. It was hard on them, but I think ‘this is how important I feel my role is.’ If anything, I think this shows them the importance of caring for others and having a higher purpose.

“It’s a good lesson for them. There were some really hard times, as a mom, where I really did not see my family. But it was definitely worth it.”

Clarke says, overall, this year’s events at Maimonides has brought “light” to long-term care.

“It has opened the eyes of everybody to the resources and processes we have in long-term care,” she explained. “In some ways, that’s a good thing. It shows how concerned the population was in general about those who are frail, and that they were advocating for the best possible care. I completely welcome that.”

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