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As Delta Variant Spreads, Now's the Time to Have Courageous Conversations About Vaccines

August 12, 2021

By Dr. James O’Dea Vice President Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network
When a Backus Hospital housekeeper expressed concern about getting vaccinated, supervisor Will Gerjes didn’t just tell her it was safe – he held her hand while she got the shot. Personal gestures like that are what helped get all 57 Backus Environmental Services team members to 100 percent vaccination status, a lofty milestone Gerjes’ teams are also closing in on at Windham and Natchaug hospitals, which make up Hartford HealthCare’s East Region. We’ve all met people who are anti-vaccine or vaccine hesitant. As a clinical psychologist who conducts training on how to talk to people about the vaccine, I know how difficult it is to overcome the factors that contribute to vaccine hesitancy – history, race, political affiliation, anti-science sentiments and socioeconomic status, to name a few. What were Will’s secrets to success?
  • He led by example: Will was the first one in his department to get vaccinated.
  • He communicated early and often. After he got the shot in the arm, no detail was too small to share, from a mildly sore arm to a voracious appetite the day.
  • He met them where they were, not where he wanted them to go. He told them, “I will be with you. I will hold your hand, I will hug you, I will be with you every step of the way.” This dedication to his team creates a level of trust that you can’t generate from a memo or email.
  • He exhibited many of Hartford HealthCare’s leadership behaviors. He respected their point of view, engaged them with a curious and humanistic approach and, rather than doing all the talking himself and preaching to them, he listened. The bottom line is if you are in the moment, respect other people's’ realities and refrain from debating someone else’s point of view, good things can happen.
These conversations are becoming increasingly important, as the COVID-19 Delta variant spreads and vaccination is becoming a condition of employment at Hartford HealthCare and at many other employers across the state and nation. Now is the time for managers and their employees to have courageous conversations, and find common ground. Will found that common ground. Can you?