Julie Thorson

I am not a medical expert, doctor, or counselor; I’m simply a coach’s daughter leading in the great field of long-term care. 

Pandemic paralysis continues to have a tight hold on us in long-term care. When I was asked and decided to contribute this leadership column several years ago, I had no idea how challenging it would be to put together an intentional column focused on leadership. 

Prior to the pandemic, I looked forward to writing the column; it was a fun challenge that often made me laugh out loud. (After all, who doesn’t laugh at themselves?) I also was proud to share with colleagues, friends and families, and give them an inside glimpse at my views on leadership. I have been blessed to learn from so many, I considered it a privilege to share. 

True confession — I’ve been struck by pandemic paralysis and I’m not proud. My only saving grace is some of you may also feel the same way.  By sharing my views on this unusual form of (self-diagnosed) leadership paralysis, maybe we can share together to lift each other up. If anything, this may be yet another lesson in vulnerability and how choosing to share may help us heal. 

Paralysis, defined as “the loss of the ability to move (and sometimes to feel anything) in part or most of the body, typically as a result of illness, poison, or injury,” of course isn’t the same as pandemic leadership paralysis. However, there are striking similarities, especially as I reflected on July 2020. I reread emails, journal entries, notes from meetings, watched some of our Facebook posts from that time one year ago, and in many ways, there has been little movement.  

That clip was from one year ago. 

Today we continue with much of the same. Testing, surveillance testing, a positive case here or there, and visitation restrictions. Of course, over time things have changed, but our intentional conversations on leadership have shifted; there is always a piece of COVID weaved in. Conversations on our personal leadership development goals aren’t happening the way they once did. Much of our attention is on the here and now. 

This isn’t a stick-in-the-mud column, but rather a realistic indication of yet another fallout from the pandemic. My hope is I’m not alone, and with one another we can talk about it and help get each other back on track. 

In preparing for this month’s column, I also looked back at all of our community’s leadership initiatives and the excitement we generated around culture. It was frustrating to spend the time looking back, knowing that we just haven’t been focused on that as much as we once were. The good news is… we will get back there again. I have to believe that. I would love to tell you our culture hasn’t taken a hit, but it has. For whatever reason, just admitting it has, even though I hate to do so, feels like a first step to healing. 

I certainly don’t want to wallow in it and make excuses for why our leadership focus has stalled. Please know that isn’t my intent. But as I look through my reflections in 2021, there is a focus on the pandemic. Just when we thought it was lifting, there was always that nagging fear it would come back. 

Now we are here. Despite going for months with no positives, they are back, just like many of you are experiencing across the country. Too much uncertainty, great unknowns and changing guidance/regulations keep us intensely focused on COVID, a necessary evil. 

The mystery to me is that even though as leaders our resilience has been tested more than ever before and we keep coming back, when will we break free of the pandemic paralysis, this undiagnosed, nonmedical condition that is hurting each of us in ways some known and some unknown? 

Recovery efforts for leaders in long-term care likely won’t be talked about or publicized, but recovering from this paralysis is real and will take time. It is our burden to bear. I feel blessed to have connections to long-term care leaders like you that will come together to help us all pull through. As for when the recovery will happen, no one really knows but faith in knowing we will get there has to be enough. 

There are 15 words total in this month’s famous quote. Have you figured out who the leader is? I’ve quoted the same national thought leader in every 2021 column. Here is a hint for this month’s quote. The last three words are all in the last paragraph in order, next to one another. My challenge to you is if you think you have pandemic leadership paralysis, reach out and let me know if you figure out the quote. It’s been fun hearing from you so far this year. I look forward to more notes. 

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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 completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program last summer.  

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.