ASHLAND – Deborah Poffenbaugh went back to school to become a licensed practical nurse at 57 years old.
Poffenbaugh studied business in college, spent time as a social security office worker and had various part-time jobs amid raising a family.
Before moving to Ashland in 2015 to be closer to her parents, her latest undertaking was working as a laundry aide at a nursing home.
She enjoyed the company, so when an aide position at Lutheran Village, an assisted living facility in Ashland, opened up, she thought it would be a good fit.
“When I started working as an aide there, I didn't have a plan to be a nurse,” Poffenbaugh said.
But the more time she spent with the residents of Lutheran Village, the more she wanted to help.
Poffenbaugh has now been working at Lutheran Village for five years, the past two as a nurse. Her co-workers nominated her for Ashland Source’s monthly series “Neighbor Spotlight” -- because of her compassion and dedication to her job.
The third Friday in February, this year Feb. 18, is national caregivers day. For Poffenbaugh, being a caregiver is a privilege.
“It's really our privilege to be able to take care of them,” she said of her residents. “I think that sometimes we're not as in touch with our seniors as we need to be.
"They still have a lot to share. They still have a lot to give.”
Poffenbaugh had a resident who died unexpectedly when Carrie Harpster, executive director of LSS Lutheran Village, first assumed her role this past fall.
Harpster said how Poffenbaugh handled the situation — comforting the family but also providing all the facts they needed to understand during an emotional time — has stuck with her.
“She knows that delicate balance of when (a family) might need something, and when it's just time to kind of step back and wait for them to ask for it,” Harpster said.
Harpster said Poffenbaugh is also generous with her time.
“When we need something covered, she is there to say yes,” Harpster said, explaining that she worked through recent winter holidays and often juggles multiple shifts.
“2 p.m. to 10 p.m. would be her normal shift, but it's not uncommon for her then to pick up and work 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. to help cover if we're missing a second- or third-shift nurse.”
Poffenbaugh grew up in Avon Lake, before moving to Bucyrus to raise her children. Between her family and work, she does not have much time for hobbies, she said with a laugh.
But her work and passion are intertwined.
“I like working with people, being able to make a difference in their lives,” she said.
As a nurse, Poffenbaugh is in charge of the resident assistants, gives out medications and assists the village residents with any needs that arise throughout a given day.
Sometimes that may be taking the time to sit and talk. Other times it involves coming to terms with death, and helping others through it.
“It's difficult to lose anyone, even when you know that it is going to happen,” Poffenbaugh said. “But knowing that we're there and we're able to provide them the best care possible and keep them as comfortable as possible, working with the families — it makes you grateful for that assistance and makes you glad that you're able to be with them through that process, knowing that they're getting the best care possible.”
Lutheran Village works with Kindred Hospice to provide care for residents within the assisted living facility.
“I've had experience with hospice with family members as well, and I like the fact that we can still keep them there,” she said. “They're in a familiar surrounding there with people they know and we're able to complete that journey with them.”
Poffenbaugh hopes her career switch later in life is an example to her children, grandchildren and others that it is never too late to start something new.
“Pretty much that was a year of my life that all I did was go to school and study,” she said. “It was difficult to get through, but I'm glad that I did it.”
While Poffenbaugh had various jobs prior to working at Lutheran Village, she now plans to stick with senior care until retirement.
“I just think it's really important that we remember that they still have a lot to offer,” Poffenbaugh said of those in assisted living. “Even though they're not able to care for themselves alone anymore and they need assistance.
"They're still a viable part of our community.”