As the COVID-19 pandemic continued for the last two months, Jose Pacheco and his two elementary school-age kids found a way to stay focused and sane.

Pacheco laces up his running shoes and his three kids — ages 11, 9 and 5 — get on their bikes and ride with him for a daily workout from their southeast Bend home to the dirt bike park behind R.E. Jewell Elementary School.

Not only does this provide a necessary break from schoolwork and a source of exercise for the kids, but it also keeps Pacheco — an emergency room nurse at St. Charles Bend — mentally and physically sound.

“It just clears the mind and allows me to go to work in such a better mood,” Pacheco said. “And I have no doubt that it’s keeping me in optimum shape as far as lung capacity and heart health.”

Pacheco is one of many Bend parents working in health care who have developed strategies to juggle educating their kids at home while keeping the region’s residents safe during a pandemic. This balancing act hasn’t been easy, they said.

“I (already) had to wear my husband hat, my dad hat, my nurse hat, and now I have to wear my fourth grade and my fifth grade teacher hat,” Pacheco said. “My respect and appreciation for our teachers has doubled.”

Brittany DeBels, a pediatric nurse at St. Charles Bend, has two kids engaged in remote learning: a 15-year-old ninth grader at Summit High School and an 11-year-old fifth grader at Elk Meadow Elementary School.

On the days when DeBels works, it’s difficult to find the energy needed to help her kids with remote learning after a 12-hour shift, she said.

“When I get home at 8 (p.m.) and eat and shower, I’m kind of spent after you give all day to other people,” she said. “It’s hard, because you want to give yourself to your kids.”

DeBels’ kids have also had a rough time with the stay-at-home quarantine, she said. Both had birthdays recently, and both miss their usual baseball and gymnastics competitions.

And because DeBels works in health care, she’s a bit stricter on her kids breaking quarantine compared to some parents, she said.

“They’re like, ‘Why do you have to be a nurse?’” she said, chuckling. “They know their friends are seeing each other during this time, but as a health care provider, I feel like I have to set a good example.”

Suzanne Mendez, a pediatric physician at St. Charles Bend, said she also found it difficult to balance health care work while keeping her three kids — a kindergartner and a third grader at Bear Creek Elementary and a sixth grader at High Desert Middle — engaged in schoolwork. For her, the biggest hurdle isn’t having to frequently go to the hospital: It’s Zoom meetings from home.

“Sometimes I’ll have a meeting at the same time I’m supposed to help my third grader get onto his web meeting,” Mendez said. “It definitely makes you appreciate what the teachers do. I don’t know how they do this with 30 kids in a classroom.”

To avoid accidentally giving their family COVID-19, some of these health care workers have created elaborate rituals after coming home from work.

Amy and Oliver Tatom — a family nurse practitioner at St. Charles Redmond and a nurse at St. Charles Immediate Care and Summit Medical Group’s urgent care clinics, respectively — created what they call a “decontamination station.” The goal is to keep the virus away from their two elementary-age kids, as well as Oliver’s 66-year-old mother and her partner of the same age.

When the Tatoms come home, they spend 10 to 15 minutes in their garage scrubbing items like wallets and keys, changing from hospital scrubs directly into bathrobes, showering immediately, then going back to the garage and disinfecting any handles or doorknobs they touched.

“We’re trying really hard to make it part of our routine,” Oliver Tatom said. “The better we are now about sticking to our routine … the better we’ll be when the virus really hits here.”

Because his mother can help with schoolwork when he and Amy Tatom work, Oliver Tatom admitted his kids’ at-home learning situation isn’t too rough. He is more worried about his kids’ mental and emotional health during the pandemic, he said.

“For us, it’s OK to take a pause and really put our emphasis on our children’s social and emotional well-being,” Tatom said. “How much time they spend on their math isn’t at the top of our list that we worry about.”

Despite the stress of parenting during the pandemic, many local parents in health care said they trusted their employer to keep them safe, so they can keep their families safe.

“I am able to not stress so much with leaving there, coming home and possibly exposing my children,” Pacheco said. “Quite honestly, I can’t think of anything that they’ve missed. They’ve been just awesome.”

Editor's note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated Suzanne Mendez's job. The Bulletin regrets the error. 

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jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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