Tribe’s security workers play major role in preventing spread of COVID-19

By Lisa Pemberton, Puyallup Tribal News Editor

Talk about frontline workers.

During the past year, the 43 full-time officers and six on-call officers in the Puyallup Tribe’s Public Safety Department have worked tirelessly to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to their regular tasks which include surveillance and other security work, their jobs now include monitoring temperature scans, checking to make sure people are wearing masks and asking employees and visitors to sign in and follow COVID-19 entry procedures at 11 Tribal buildings. Six of those sites are staffed 24 hours a day.

“Security has put others’ safety and health first knowing they could be putting themselves at risk by being the initial contact person and screening people before allowing entry into a buildings,” said Rory Laducer, Director of Emergency Management and Public Safety. “I believe the security employees have done a great job responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Tara Reynon, Tribal Community Wellness Division Manager, said the Tribe’s security officers have enforced entry protocols with kindness and respect.

“They watch out for us so that we can provide the essential services necessary to meet the needs of our membership each and every day,” she said. “We could not do our work without their support. I just love our security team.”

Security Manager Mike Young works in the Tribe’s Public Safety Office. He and his brother Dennis Young manage a team of 43 full-time officers and six on-call officers.

When the health checks and entry requirements first rolled out, they weren’t very popular.

Sometimes, workers got impatient with lines when they’re running late for meetings. Sometimes, Tribal Members got frustrated when they’re denied building access without an appointment. Sometimes, people who didn’t want to wear masks got upset when they weren’t allowed in a building.

Public Safety Security Manager Dennis Young said he’s proud of how his staff has enforced the entry requirements. He and his brother Mike Young oversee the security program.

“It’s been tough, especially when we’re raised about our Elders and how precious they are, and how do you tell an Elder to wait outside?” he said.

Young is part of the COVID-19 Response Team, a group of managers and other staff members who work with Tribal Medical Director Dr. Alan Shelton on Admin’s response to the pandemic and positive cases among staff. The group’s work includes contact tracing, community notification, scheduling of deep cleanings and making recommendations to Tribal Council on building closures as a preventative measure against the virus.

Tribal Council has closed all Tribal buildings until Feb. 16, to help prevent the spread of the virus. Some staff members and departments have to work in the office to provide services to Tribal Members, or keep the Tribal government functioning. Security workers continue to report to their posts every day.

“There’s no teleworking in security,” Young said. “If you close a building because there’s an exposure, we still have to stay. We can’t leave.”

He said the Public Safety tries to stay connected as much as they can remotely, because they don’t see each other at events, like they used to, due to the pandemic.

“We’re very traditional when it comes to how we gather, and it’s always been ‘We’ll squeeze 500 people in a 100 person room,’ and now you can’t even put five people in there,” Young said. “I miss that getting together, the events. We’d get our team together and provide security for those events and it just gave us a chance to show off our skills.”

Young said he tries to remind them to practice self-care and take care of themselves to avoid burnout. The Tribe’s investment in other preventative measures, including the purchase of thermal scanning equipment for work sites and remodeled entryway at the Admin Building, have also helped ease their stress.

“Their presence and attention makes a huge difference in staff’s well-being,” said Senior Administrative Assistant Nicole Sutton. “I deeply appreciate the work they do, especially through this pandemic.”

Maryann Moore works in security at the House of Respect

Maryann Moore, a Puyallup Tribal Member who works in security at the House of Respect, said the pandemic has changed her job quite a bit. She sanitizes her desk upon arrival and when she leaves. She interacts with fewer people because the House of Respect Residences are currently closed to outside visitors. But she’s also had an opportunity to spend more time with the residents.

“I get to work with these beautiful people – they are so fun,” Moore said. “They make me laugh. They’re like my grandparents, you know?”

Because of her job location, Moore was able to be one of the first people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. For her, it was another level of protection she can provide for Tribal Elders and their families.

“I couldn’t ask for a better job,” she said.

Jonah Villegas briefly removes his mask to talk to an Elder over an intercom at the Admin building. All employees and visitors must have appointments to enter Tribal buildings until Feb. 16, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.