Marcus Parence had anything but an easy start in Pine Haven.

Parence, the CEO and administrator of Pine Haven Care Center, was recognized as an Outstanding Leader by the Pine Island community in June -- largely thanks to his quick actions to keep the center safe during the ongoing pandemic.

Parence joined the Pine Haven team in January of 2020 -- just before COVID-19 hit the U.S. and began rapidly spreading through care homes.

How did you make your way to Pine Haven Care Center?

I was looking for something different from my previous facility. … It intrigued me, so I put my name in the hat. … It’s a standalone facility, when I’ve worked for organizations for most of my career. You’re able to make decisions and not necessarily rely on the corporate office to provide direction for you.

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I’ve been an administrator for almost eight years now, in various places -- Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota more prominently. I worked for Good Samaritan for five years. … I look for the environment -- a good environment where I can learn and grow as a leader, and (one) I can have an impact on, hopefully positively, to make sure that we’re moving in the right direction.

How do you think you grew as a leader in the past year and a half?

Without the support of that corporate office, the staff and residents really rely on me to know what we should be doing. I stepped a little out of my comfort zone to do all the research. … Versus knowing that corporate office is going to come out with a policy and that’s what we’re going to do.

How did it feel to receive that leadership award in your first year in Pine Haven?

It was a good surprise, but a surprise. It sounded like the community recognized not only the work I do, but the work we do as a (care center).

We’re still in a pandemic, obviously, but if you look back at those early days, how do you feel about the choices you made, given the information you had?

It was such an uncertain time, and you’re … not trying to be the first or one of the first in Minnesota to have an outbreak. You don’t know how it’s going to affect residents, staff, and you’d hear stories from other facilities -- the Washington facility that got it first, and how that ran rampant through it. (We were) trying to mitigate that as much as we possibly could, but try to keep some of our day-in, day-out things so our residents could still have the best quality of life possible. Obviously, following the ever-changing regulations, it felt like every 15 minutes we had something new coming down the pipeline to implement.

Where are you in terms of regulation now?

Things are loosening, I’ll say. The bigger thing right now is getting people vaccinated. The more staff I have vaccinated, the looser things will be. And we’ve gone back to communal dining on one side of the building because almost all of the residents are vaccinated, so they’re able to sit four to a table, no masks. Activities are being spread out. … As we continue to get employees and residents vaccinated, I see things continuing to loosen up.

Where do you see the care center going in the next year?

Hopefully ... as we come out of the back end of this pandemic, we get back to as much normalcy as we possibly can, and continue to provide the quality of care Pine Haven is known for.