HOMESPUN - Josie Lauck

Josie Lauck is the administrator at Platte County Legacy Home in Wheatland, Wyoming. Lauck, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a love for social work, is leading a team of staff members and elderly residents through a world pandemic during a very dark holiday season.

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By Mark DeLap

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WHEATLAND – The changes at the Platte County Legacy Home has seen drastic changes in the last six months, and with the holidays coming, there is no relief in sight on the restrictions to the patients.

According to Legacy Home administrator Josie Lauck, everthing has changed in the past eight months since initial restrictions were placed by the Wyoming State Health Department.

“And it seems to be ever changing,” Lauck said. “The biggest and most recent change right now is the obvious PPE (personal protective equipment) we have to wear. The residents have to be in isolation, we had to quit our indoor visitation and outdoor visitation.”

The reason for the increased restrictions to the nursing, rehab and assisted living facility is due to the fact that the COVID positivity in Platte County went up and also two residents at Legacy Home have tested positive, and according to Lauck, they are reacting with compliance.

“In total, we have had seven staff members, so we have to react to those situations and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

The holidays come with enough natural stress, but to isolate our elderly, you can tell in the voice of Lauck it has been a horrible time.

“It’s heartbreaking, really,” she said. “They’re not able to see their family. Of course we do both Skype and Zoom, but it’s not the same thing. They haven’t been able to touch or hold hands with a family member or friend for months and months.”

According to Lauck, the entire routine for the residents has changed and the staff has been working tirelessly to become creative in keeping their spirits up.

“The way we do activities has changed, the way we have to eat meals and the way the staff can enter and exit their rooms,” Lauck said. “Everything has changed for them and it’s awful. A lot of them are so sick of being in their room, some of them don’t understand why they can’t see their families and why they can’t come out of their room from isolation.”

Lauck mentions that even through all the restrictions, the lack of human contact is the worst.

“We are kind of handling it the same way as everything else,” she said. “Basically we are very restricted as to what our options are. Other than Skype and Zoom, we still have family members coming to outside windows to be able to see each other. But right now because we are in the isolation.”

According to Lauck, when a staff member or resident have tested positive, from the day that they test they must remain in isolation for 14 days. During Thanksgiving, the facility was still in that isolation period and Thanksgiving meals were served individually in each resident’s room. They had to spend their Thanksgiving meal all alone.

“We call that the yellow zone,” she said. “There is a not a whole lot we can do to bring them together like we would traditionally do. There was still a Thanksgiving meal and our activities people were great, going up and down the halls thinking of all these different hallway activities to do with them. So we still will keep them engaged as much as we possibly can, but it’s definitely not the same.”

Activities have been tweaked and the staff has tried to be creative in dealing with the residents. When a staff member goes into a resident room, it’s almost treated as a hazmat situation.

“We have to have the gown on, the gloves, the mask and the face shield,” Lack said. “Of course, then when you go out, you have to take all of that off. And when you go into another room, you have to PPE up again and do the same thing. What they are doing is carts with like sugar cookies, juice, play music, talk to the residents.”

They even play a type of catch through the resident’s doorways. They throw the ball, when it comes back, it’s sanitized and ready to throw back. The staff is still coming up with things to do. They are also encouraged to encourage one another.

“One of the cool things that our activity director came up with for Thanksgiving, was a printed statement on colored paper that said, ‘I’m thankful for,’ and they could write an encouraging note to each other and pass it around. They are reminded that we are all in this together and even though we’re not seeing each other right now, we’re all still here going through the same thing.”

As far as Christmas coming and receiving presents from the outside, Lauck said that it will really depend on where things are at a month from now. So far, family members have been able to bring things in and leave them for their family members.

“Hopefully we will be back to the social distancing and masks and not the isolation that we’re in right now,” she said. “I do see the light at the end here with the possibility of the vaccine. But for one, the vaccine is going to be hard to get, and not everybody’s going to be able to access it at once.

“And if you do get it, then you have to wait for 28 days before you get the booster, and then I don’t know how long after the booster it’s going to take to be effective. So, I mean, that gets us all the way into February. We’re in for the long haul, unfortunately.”

Lauck, who was born in Wheatland and is a Wheatland graduate wanted a career as a vet tech. After a change of heart and a change of plan that may have been divinely scripted, she, as a stay-at-home mom earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. 

In 2013 she applied for the social services director at Platte County Legacy Home with a strong background in psychology and social work.  

“Last year my administrator was offered a regional position and so he came to me and asked me if I would consider applying for the administrator’s job,” she said. “Not something I thought I would ever or could ever do in a million years.”

After thinking about her decision, her uncle came to her with some sage advice.

“He said, ‘you know, I never regretted the chances that I’ve taken, but I do regret the chances that I didn’t.’” she said, smiling underneath her mask. “And so I knew that he was right. I have to go for it, and I’m strong enough I can get through it.”

Little did she know that she would be navigating uncharted waters along with the rest of the world that has taken on a leadership role. Since there were no instructions manufactured dealing with the virus, there have been inconsistencies across the board worldwide and people are still blindly shooting at a moving target. Lauck keeps things calm and in perspective.

She is one of Wheatland’s young leaders who has been put in charge of the monumental task of dealing with the lives of so many under her care during a situation never witnessed by any in this generation is being forged in this fire.

She wears many hats. She is as a daughter to the many residents living at the facility, she is a co-worker that is like a sibling to the rest of her staff, and all the while keeping that fine line of management in perhaps what will turn out to be the most challenging thing in her entire life.

“For one, I’m brand-new trying to learn the daily job,” she said. “But then too, trying to navigate and maneuver a facility through a pandemic that no one has experience with. It’s so very difficult, but the most enjoyable thing about it all is the residents. Especially now. It really feels like we’re a second family. I would also like to say that it helps because I have an amazing management team, who are each very pivotal to helping get our resident through this.”

She answered the call to go into a higher calling with her education and with her life with one foundational building block that was her motivator.    

“The reason that I went down the career education path that I did was because I actually wanted to be able to give back something,” she said. “I am hoping that the work I am doing here makes a difference.”

It may not alter the course of world events, being an administrator in a small Wyoming town, but she is making a difference in the lives of a generation that lives in a fleeting autumn. In turn, it touches families, friends and a community.

With Lauck at the helm, each ship will reach its safe harbor and the strength and character she has developed within her own life gives those around her a sense of peace and the ability to see that light she talks about at tunnel’s end.

When she speaks it, everyone around her believes. “We are all in this together, and we are going to get through it.”


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