Father, son work together during pandemic

By Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler | May 29, 2020

STROUDSBURG, Pa. —

Joseph Sapienza, director of maintenance/ life safety for Pleasant Valley Manor nursing home, recently received word that someone very familiar to him would be coming to work at the home.

His son, Sgt. Alec Sapienza, a combat medic with the 108th Medical Area Support Company, 213th Regional Support Group, was part of a Pennsylvania National Guard team that would be providing support at Pleasant Valley Manor.

The younger Sapienza had been hoping to surprise his dad.

“I was trying to [surprise him] until my mom told him,” said Alec, who was happy that his father was getting support from someone that he knew. "It made him a little more comfortable with the people that he is working with because I knew them as well, personally, most of my military career.”

The Soldiers and Airmen from the Pennsylvania National Guard, in support of Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, have been working in nursing homes and long-term care facilities to aid staff during the COVID-19 situation. Pleasant Valley Manor is one of several that Soldiers and Airmen from Pennsylvania Task Force North have helped with during this time.

Alec, having recently come off support to Gracedale Nursing Home in Nazareth, volunteered to assist with another mission – before he knew where it was.

“I learned roughly two to three days ago,” Alec said, about being contacted to supporting another mission. “I had a grievous [situation] in my family – the death of my grandfather – and I realized that I still wanted to keep helping to the best that I can.”

Alec found out that next mission was going to be Pleasant Valley in an interesting way.

“Captain Vu told me that he needed help in a location. Once he informed me that he knew a man named Joseph Sapienza, he asked me if we were related. I said, ‘Yeah, I might know him,’” said Alec.

To Alec, the importance of the Pennsylvania National Guard supporting nursing homes and long-term facilities cannot be understated.

“After working with Gracedale, I had extra incentive to volunteer to help with another nursing home,” he said. “The experience was changing. It was definitely an eye-opening experience, especially being a pandemic like we are in right now, about how important it is that we are doing these types of missions.”

The speed is similar to Gracedale, Alec said, as the medical professionals from the Pa. Guard and the staff of Pleasant Valley worked through their own understanding of each other’s capabilities.

“Communication is always going to be that biggest factor, especially when it comes to a new environment with people who do not know you,” said Alec. “So, it was helpful for us all to sit down and have a conversation for about five to ten minutes about what we can and can’t do.”

The initial meshing and joining of the different staff provided the cohesion and growth of the two elements. For Joseph, it was a moment of pride for him to see the kind of professional that his son has become.

“It is a pleasure for me, because it is an honor because he is my son and I’m seeing him do things that he told me that he did in action,” Joseph said. “It is a great feeling. I could not tell you how proud I am of him – of him and the entire military.”

Joseph, who handles the boiler and building maintenance, also works as customer relations to make sure the residents are happy; and he said that they have been enjoying the Pa. Guard Soldiers at Pleasant Valley Manor.

“I feel the feedback has been great,” he said. “I had residents tell me, ‘They were so nice, and it is a pleasure having them.’ And it was really nice to see that they really, really appreciated it.”

For Alec, who has visited Pleasant Valley Manor in the past as a volunteer, returning in uniform was different.

“I finally felt like I was helping,” he said. “When I first came here, I was just talking to people, seeing what they were like – there are many veterans here as well – so it kind of helped you build up that rapport with those people. But, by finally coming here and being able to do something with some jurisdiction it was a very heartfelt moment.”

Many of the troops from the Pa. Guard are taking the opportunity to assist with the residents at these locations as reasons to continue their medical education, said Alec.

“Most of us having been talking about taking our Medical College Admission Test, or even going to physician assistant school and becoming a doctor,” he said. “Coming from Gracedale, a lot of folks are already in school, nursing school, or trying to get into ‘med’ school.”

The Soldiers from the Pa. Guard are supporting Pleasant Valley Manor for a limited time, but this opportunity will never be lost on Joseph.

“He’s doing a great job and I’m not just saying that because I’m his father – I’m the biggest critic and critique-er and he’ll tell you this. If you are not doing it right, then I’m going to tell you, I do not hold back [any] punches,” said Joseph. “I’m just so proud of him.”