The doctor prepares the injection site with an alcohol swab so that he can inject the vaccine.
(Credit: SDI Productions / Getty Images)

A high percentage of staff members are vaccinated with the updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccine at a Florida continuing care retirement / life plan community, despite multiple cultures and backgrounds among its 215 employees.

Garry Hennis, chief operating officer for Westminster Communities of Florida, said the provider used multiple communication methods to reach staff members where they were on their individual vaccination journeys. But, he admitted during Monday’s LeadingAge membership call, it was residents who helped propel vaccination numbers among staff. 

Hennis focused on Westminster Woods on Julington Creek, a life plan community in Jacksonville, FL, where 100% of staff members in its nursing home licensed areas received the bivalent vaccine.

Early in the pandemic, Westminster Communities implemented a vaccine mandate that carried over to booster shots. But the provider backed away from a mandate when the bivalent vaccines came out. Despite that strategy, Hennis said, a significant number of employees chose vaccination.

At Westminster Woods on Julington Creek, Hennis said, the resident council was instrumental in the success of getting the message about vaccines across to staff members.

“It really comes down to the leadership team that provides day-to-day operational support to the campus — and the team of residents and how they felt about the vaccine — working together to do the education, to do the hand holding and to get us across the finish line,” Hennis said. “Our residents were strong proponents [of the vaccine], and they were not shy about sharing their feelings.”

Hennis said that, early on, the community started creating messaging on why being vaccinated makes a difference. The community then worked with residents and employees, as well as their families, to focus on education and dispelling misinformation about vaccines.

Group and one-on-one meetings, written communication, web postings, emails, texts and videos were all used, because, Hennis said, “people learn in different ways.” Having an on-site pharmacy to deliver vaccinations also lent a convenience factor to the vaccination process.

Although Westminster Communities lost a handful of staff members across its 22 Florida campuses due to its initial vaccine mandate, Hennis said that the path chosen came down to residents feeling safe in their homes.

The biggest obstacles to vaccination, he said, was the media and the portrayal of vaccination as a political or religious issue. Westminster Communities allowed medical and religious waivers during its vaccination mandate, but the organization followed up with religious institutions to ensure staff were members.

To address staff member or resident concerns about vaccines, the community tapped its medical directors and pharmacists, as well as directors of nursing, to help with education and support. The community also culled religious and professional leaders from the surrounding community to share their views on and reasons for vaccination.

“It’s not a defensive conversation. It’s a mission conversation,” Hennis said, adding that he promotes using multiple communication methods to reach each person. “Seek to understand each person with great respect for each of their perspectives, even if you don’t agree with it.”