Celebrating National Caregivers Day

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Joanna Jacobs, LPN, reflects on 36 years at Sunnyside Manor and nearly four decades of caregiving.

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Joanna Jacobs, LPN

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a caregiver? With nearly four decades of experience caring for seniors, Joanna Jacobs, LPN, is the person to ask! In honor of National Caregivers Day, we sat down to chat with her about her 36 years at Sunnyside Manor, what it’s like being a caregiver, and how caregiving has changed in the past year.

This interview has been edited for clarity and space.

When did you start working at Sunnyside Manor?

My hire date was October 4, 1984. I was 18 years old and had just graduated high school that June, and I had already worked at a facility in the area for 2.5 years.

What was your first job at Sunnyside Manor?

I was a CNA [Certified Nursing Assistant]. I started nursing school in January of 1985. I worked every weekend and went to school during the week. I graduated in 1986, two days after the Challenger accident. I worked per diem at Sunnyside Manor while I was working at Jersey Shore Medical Center. I got a lot of skill and training there and would work at Sunnyside Manor when they needed me. I came back to Sunnyside Manor [as my primary job] in 1988 and have been here ever since.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love the residents! As a nurse, I connect more with the geriatric population. I always had a special connection to the elderly. Even as a kid, I felt that I got along better [with them] than with people my own age. I’m fascinated by their lives.

These days, it is unusual for people to stay with one job for so long. Why has Sunnyside Manor been such a good fit for you?

Sunnyside Manor had that family feel since day one. A lot of the people I worked with when I first got hired became fast friends. I have remained friends with a few people from way back then, who have since retired. I still talk to them and they are part of my family.

Mr. and Mrs. Keane [John and Lucia, who acquired Sunnyside Manor in 1991] were very welcoming to the staff that were already here and made sure that we felt comfortable. It’s nerve-wracking when there are new owners, and you don’t know how it’s going to be! But, the Keanes always made you feel like family.

What is your favorite memory from the past 36 years?

Pages from Joanna’s Photo Album: Sunnyside Manor in the 1980s.

Pages from Joanna’s photo album: Sunnyside Manor in the 1980s. How times have changed!

One is the resident Christmas party the first year I started working here, in the old building. They had Joey – who was still playing music here up until the pandemic –come in with his little piano and sing. I still have the pictures I took when I was 18 years old of that party in the living room.

We didn’t have a [staff] Christmas party at that time. The staff decided to throw ourselves a Christmas party. We were doing our own parties for a couple of years, which was wonderful. When Mr. and Mrs. Keane took over, they said we should not have to do this ourselves! They started throwing us a Christmas party every year, and it got bigger and bigger.

Another favorite memory is that in the early ‘90s, my grandmother-in-law was one of our residents. I was able to care for her when I was working. That was a blessing. She had somebody here who she knew and recognized. It was great.

What has been the biggest challenge in your time at Sunnyside Manor?

Right now, the pandemic. In our generation, we have not seen anything like this. The Spanish Flu – that’s a lifetime ago. We’re not used to having as many restrictions nowadays as there may have been in the early 1900s.

There are so many guidelines and so many things we have to follow to keep up – amping up the testing, the vaccinations. We’re blessed that we’ve been as lucky as we are.

How has the pandemic changed your job?

You don’t have the contact that you would have before, to sit as close to the residents. It is hard when you have to wear a mask, or two masks, and you talk with people who are hard of hearing. And, it is difficult for residents. We make it as easy possible [for residents to see their families] with Skype, window visits, and the outdoor visits. We are really doing our best to keep our residents safe and happy.

What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen at Sunnyside Manor over the years?

One of the biggest changes was when Mr. and Mrs. Keane bought Sunnyside Manor [the former location]. They renovated the whole building and put in an elevator. Before it was really called “assisted living” we had an assisted living area on the second floor. Now, we had an elevator instead of stairs to go up!

What was the biggest change when you moved to the new building?

The move was very, very smooth and well-orchestrated. It was just fabulous. We have three neighborhoods now, so I didn’t get to see some of the people I worked with as much. I have to say – because I’m getting a little older now – the old Sunnyside Manor had a lot more give in the old flooring! I was a little sore when I started in the new building, but I have adapted!

How do you know that you are doing a good job?

By the way residents look at me, talk to me, and even light up. You see it in how they act and react to you.

This morning when I came in, I opened the blinds [in a resident’s room] and I said, “Look, it snowed, do you want to build a snowman?” She said she would love to, so when I had a moment, I went out and got a cup of snow for her. I said, “Would you like to touch the snow?” She thought that was the best thing and she started giggling and playing with the snow.

My nursing instructor said it is very rare that you get warmfuzzies, but every now and then you will. It’s a little pat on the back.

If you could tell people one thing about being a professional caregiver, what would it be?

Some people are just born to be in that role, whether you are a nurse, a preschool teacher, or working with adults with disabilities… my daughter does that. That is her calling right now.

You’ve got to follow your heart and make sure you’re doing right. Step in and be the advocate for your resident, be compassionate, and caring. I always say, treat people the way you want to be treated.

What do you like to do outside of work?

One of my escapes is my camper on a permanent site in Lancaster. When the season opens in March, I go out there for peace of mind, and to relax and regroup. But, mostly it’s just being with my family – who are all growing up and moving out now! My husband and I have six kids all together. Now I have to figure out what I’m going to do with the next stage of my life!

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Sunnyside Manor has always been, and felt like, my home. They have always been there. When I said they’re like family, they really are!

Thanks to Joanna for her years of dedicated service as a caregiver, and for taking the time to talk to us about her experience.

Learn More About Why Families Rely On Sunnyside Manor

Sunnyside Manor offers assisted living, memory support, and skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Learn more about Sunnyside Manor’s resources for caregivers. Whether you’re looking for short-term support or a longer-term plan, we are here to help. Begin with our “Getting Started” guide. Times have changed, and so have our admissions protocols. Please call us at 888-696-2052 to speak with a senior living expert.

Sunnyside Manor, located in Wall NJ, is the area’s premier senior living community. It features three distinctive neighborhoods: Independence ‘Plus’ Assisted Living, Recollections Memory Care and Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation.

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