Gary Tetz

Now that the pandemic is easing, one of my best ideas is probably never going to get the chance it deserves. It involves using the power of natural law to make sure an unvaccinated long-term care resident can’t come to harm from being in close proximity with an unvaccinated guest. 

When that vaccine-hesitant visitor arrives at a facility to see the resident, I’ve proposed they both be outfitted with a large magnet, not unlike that lead apron you wear during dental x-rays, with the like-poles pointing together, north-north or south-south. So the more aggressively they try to get close, the stronger will be the invisible force pushing them a safe distance apart. 

For extra fun, magnets could also be made available for vaccinated visitors visiting vaccinated residents, but in this case with the like-poles pointing away, north-south. So even if they feel nervous about embracing each other for the first time in more than a year, they’ll be inexorably drawn together, snapping into hugging position whether they really want to or not. 

Yes, I know there could be flaws in this plan. Some clinical experts and facility administrators I’ve shared it with have even used phrases like “ridiculous,” “makes no sense” and “troubling in many ways.” But there’s no such thing as a bad idea, right?

Fortunately, within the long-term care profession, far smarter people than me are seeking even better methods to protect residents and employees. They apparently believe that figuring out how to raise the staff vaccination rate is a more effective path than adopting my wearable magnet idea, and painful as it is to admit, I guess I agree. 

Many of the programs being proposed to reduce vaccine hesitancy seem rooted in the essential philosophical question — should you force people or bribe them? The state of Ohio is giving five people $1 million in a vaccine lottery, and McKnight’s reports that a Florida facility is offering staff who get vaccinated a $1,000 bonus. On the flip side, Jewish Senior Services is simply making it a condition of employment. It’s a question of carrot versus stick. 

Personally, I don’t tend to favor the carrot approach, as it seems sad to bribe people to do what ought to come naturally — the right thing. No one pays me to bag my garbage instead of throwing it off the apartment balcony into the pool, and it shouldn’t take a cash payment to get me to vote, tell the truth, wear a seatbelt, treat others with respect or help prevent the spread of a lethal virus. 

Forced to choose between the two, I guess I prefer the stick philosophy — letting people go if they refuse to be vaccinated. As the Jewish Senior Services CEO is quoted in the article, “It is the only way to deliver the message to our current and future clients that their safety comes first.” It could also be a good way to weed out those who weren’t right for your team in the first place. Anyone who experienced the past many months of misery and loss but still can’t reach a risk/benefit conclusion in favor of vaccination may not be the best person to provide care to other humans. 

But maybe it doesn’t have to be either a bribe or termination. I think there’s a third, underutilized option we don’t consider enough — shame. Instead of paying bonuses or firing vaccine-reluctant staff, perhaps they should simply be required to wear a big red U for “unvaccinated” on their chests. Still in face shields and wearing that scarlet letter, they’ll stand out like one of those highway litter crews in orange jumpsuits from the local detention facility, and will probably beg for the shot. 

So carrot, stick or public humiliation? It’s not an easy choice. But if you still can’t decide, could I interest you in some wearable magnets? 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.