Julie Thorson

As leaders, our responsibilities never seem to end. During the pandemic many lives depended on us. None of us need to be reminded of that, but the work is far from over.

We now have a proven tool available to us, yet so many of our team members choose to decline their opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. 

I’m not about to begin to tell you about what a great clinician I am because that would simply not be true. I do, however, know an amazing clinician who happens to be a dear friend. Kim Bergen-Jackson, Ph.D., RN-BC, LNHA, is the administrator for Oaknoll in Iowa City, IA. She has been able to do something pretty amazing at her community. Without making it mandatory, she, almost single handedly, found a way to inspire 93% of her team members to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. 

I had to call her to find out how she managed to do this, and her secret may surprise you. She personally talked to each team member. She wanted the message to be consistent, so she took on the challenge herself. She answered questions, she educated with videos and articles, and in the end, it came down to meatloaf. Especially when she spoke with team members about their fear of possibly getting COVID-19 if they got the shot.

Yes, I said meatloaf. I’ll let Kim explain: 

“I know all the talk about the different vaccines and how they are made can be confusing, so I want to compare the vaccine to something we all know and love: Think about meatloaf.  

There are lots of ingredients we use to make meatloaf, and there are lots of things in the coronavirus that make COVID-19. If we take one ingredient out of the meatloaf, say onion, we still have meatloaf in one hand, but in the other hand we only have the onion. The onion doesn’t taste like meatloaf, it doesn’t look like meatloaf, and it doesn’t digest like meatloaf when you eat it.  

The vaccine is very similar. In one hand you have COVID-19 (meatloaf) and in the other hand you have a spiky protein (onion) that was removed from the virus and copied to make the vaccine. The vaccine is not the virus, it doesn’t look like the virus, and it doesn’t act like the virus when you get the vaccine. The spiky protein gives your body the instructions to make antibodies which protect us against COVID-19.”
– Kim Bergen-Jackson 

After making the viewing of this COVID vaccine video a requirement, Oaknoll had 70% of its team commit to get vaccinated. Then, Bergen-Jackson went person to person to discuss concerns individually. Following her individual conversation, her department managers took over and helped coordinate. I admire her approach, but where does one find time in the day to have conversations with every single team member? 

We here at our community haven’t done that (yet). Maybe there is a fear that individual conversations won’t work. Maybe I’m afraid I won’t be convincing enough or don’t know the research well enough. We are holding at around 60% of our team members being vaccinated and, despite our efforts, we’ve remained there for weeks. 

So, what does it take to become a community where over 93% of team members are vaccinated? Kim certainly isn’t silent. “Persistence, information, availability, trust, and answers to questions and various forms of education.”

Easier said than done. The one thing I do know about Kim’s leadership style is that trust is a key ingredient to making this work. When things that matter are at stake, a leader like Kim is one to look to.  

There are 14 words total from this month’s famous quote. They are all embedded in this blog in the order in which they appear in the quote. Re-read and happy hunting. Once you figure it out, let me know ([email protected]). The quote from one of America’s most influential thought leaders is a leadership lesson all its own and one I’m personally reminded of every day.  

 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 is a past “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 completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program last summer.