Julie Thorson

This is the third blog I’ve written since COVID-19 became a daily conversation. To write a leadership blog during this time seems especially daunting. Leadership is certainly tested day in and day out. So what to offer today? 

I would like the opportunity to bring you inside our community. Like all of you, I think we are an amazing community filled with amazing people. In that regard, I’m sure my opinion of Friendship Haven is no different than yours of your communities. 

However, there is something incredibly special going on at Friendship Haven. In the spirit of sharing what works, I’d like to take some time to let you see in. Before I do, however, let me provide a little background. In Fort Dodge, IA, compared to much of the rest of the world, we have been lucky. We have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Friendship Haven. We are testing residents and employees often, but we have chosen to not test everyone … yet. I’m sure that time will come, but for now we are staying the course. The discussion surrounding testing for all is for another time. Today, we are holding our own and continuing the fight to not allow it onto our campus, realizing that at any moment it could enter.

My leadership advice is to go back to the basics: communicate, include, communicate, include, communicate, include — over and over again. It’s not enough to communicate and hope your team listens. It’s more important now than ever to make sure communication is also engaging. We cannot simply talk at our teams. We have to include them in every way in the conversation.  If we want team members to truly appreciate their role in fighting, they have to own their work. We have made amazing strides in that challenge during this pandemic. 

How do I know? They’ve told us. For a few years now we’ve had a closed employee Facebook group. It was a tool for communicating with employees that was working, but we didn’t truly take advantage of it until now. We post daily on this closed group, but it isn’t just posting it’s an invitation. Team members respond to questions, ask questions and share positive messages. It became a very effective way to lift spirits, share information and inspire. Something I know we will continue to use for a long time to come. 

We have also specifically increased usage of our general Friendship Haven Facebook page. We were not able to have our in-person Employee appreciation celebration this year where we offer service anniversary recognition so you will find team members recognizing milestones on our page and it has been a great way to honor and recognize. Different? Sure, but still special for those team members to have everyone see their great works and send a virtual congratulations. 

We also have put several interviews on our Facebook page. Interviews with residents, team members, the mayor and others. In this world of Zoom it’s quite special to have the record option because we can capture this time and share it with others. Two words that have rolled around in my head through all of this are “essential” and “experts.” Definitions that for me have changed in the last three months. 

Recently, we interviewed a few of our essential experts and the outcome was awesome. The video is 20 minutes long. It is real. It is accurate. It is their experience. We don’t have any confirmed cases, but what is happening in long term care communities is still unprecedented, and who better to share a peek inside this world than our essential experts: 

Friendship Haven Experts

We have come to rely on the advice of experts as we navigate this new environment in which we find ourselves. Watch this video and hear from some of Friendship Haven's most valuable experts.

Posted by Friendship Haven on Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The six experts who you just listened to are six of many. We don’t see them often enough; we don’t hear from them often enough. They own their work and they are the experts. They are the ones fighting for our residents every day and I am so proud to work alongside them. 

Facebook isn’t the solution to communication and inclusion, but for us it has been an excellent way to tie our community residents, families and employees together and share the good and the bad. We also do a daily update for our residents on our closed circuit television station. Daily updates, exercise classes, worship — we have increased content quite a bit, another thing that will last far beyond this. We will continue to use technology and be transparent as we navigate through this, as I’m sure you will as well. 

Until next time, keep talking, keep asking questions and stay the course.

Julie Thorson was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. Thorson is currently a coach for the Leading Age’s Larry Minnix Leadership Academy.  Her “Living Leadership” blog was named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and recently completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program.