What to do when your loved one is in a nursing home during COVID-19

woman laughing with motherNursing homes and other long term care facilities have been especially hard hit by COVID-19, leaving many families worried about their loved ones and unsure about what to do. You can help by understanding what’s going on and by talking to your loved one to address their questions and concerns. You can also stay in touch with them remotely, which will help keep them from feeling isolated and alone.

A question on many people’s minds is “how did COVID-19 get into a nursing home in the first place?”

In some cases, a resident may have come into the facility with the virus after returning from travel or even after a trip to the grocery store or the doctor. In the same way, it could have been introduced by a visitor, a volunteer or a staff member. The reason is simple: when the pandemic first hit the United States, most people were still unaware of the risk, so the virus spread through people who may not have even had symptoms.

COVID-19 is highly contagious so once a resident, staff member or volunteer inside a group home had COVID-19, it could spread rapidly throughout the building. That’s what has happened in nursing homes and assisted living facilities; every time an infected person coughed or sometimes even breathed, they transmitted the virus to anyone within six feet.

If your loved one is in a facility with no cases of COVID-19

For group homes with no known cases of COVID-19, the most important thing is keeping it out. This is why facilities have stopped allowing visitors and volunteers; keeping the residents safe depends on limiting the number of people who can come in.

Of course, staff members still have to come in every day and that creates a risk of infection, especially for staff members who work in several different facilities. Only essential staff members should be working on site. They should also wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times and should change their PPE after coming into contact with each resident.

Facilities should also be following social distancing guidelines. For group homes, that means group activities are canceled and meals are served in rooms. Residents are encouraged to stay in their own rooms as much as possible and if they have to leave, they should wear a facemask and maintain six feet distance from other people.

If your loved one is in a facility with known cases of COVID-19

Once a group home has a suspected case of COVID-19, extra care must be taken to isolate patients while also providing healthcare services. Facilities should have a special wing or floor away from everyone else for COVID-19 patients and specific employees should be dedicated to that area only – they should not work both with COVID-19 patients and also with other residents.

Residents without COVID-19 symptoms should be following the same guidelines as in other group homes; they should stay in their rooms as much as possible and when they have to leave, should wear a facemask and maintain social distancing.

Remember that long-term care facilities are overwhelmed right now — especially if there is an outbreak, the staff’s priority is keeping the residents safe. While they should still try to find time to address the concerns of family members, they probably don’t have as much time as they usually do to talk to family members. Be patient with them.

Staying in touch

For many residents of group homes, it’s hard not being allowed to see visitors or participate in group activities. Many struggle with loneliness or depression. Fortunately, there are ways to visit remotely. Many nursing homes have set up window stations for visitors. Friends and family can call the facility and to schedule a window visit with a loved one.

Visitors can be escorted to a large window or sliding glass door where they can watch safely from inside while visitors smile and wave – or perform songs or dances for them – from outside. Window visitation can be done over the phone as well, in which case, both the resident and the visitor talk on the phone while being able to see each other through the window.

Many facilities have also helped set up computers and email accounts for residents who don’t already have them, and of course, talking on the phone is always a safe way to stay in touch.

If your loved one is bedridden or unable to talk on the phone, call the facility to ask for help – in most cases, staff members can take a phone or tablet into a room and hold it up, allowing visitors to see or speak to their loved ones over Skype or Zoom.

Questions to ask the staff:

  • If you are worried about a loved one in an assisted living facility or nursing home, there are questions you can ask the staff about sanitation and You can also ask about the mental health of residents and what options there are for remote visitation.
  • Are employees screened each day for COVID-19? How are they screened? Are their temperatures taken when they arrive to work each day?
  • Does the facility have enough PPE for employees to change every time they interact with a resident?
  • Is there a separate unit set aside for COVID-19 patients?
  • Do the staff who treat COVID-19 patients also work with other residents?
  • Have cloth masks been provided to all residents? Are they required to wear them when leaving their rooms?
  • How are food, groceries and toiletries being delivered?
  • Is mail being set aside for 24 hours before it is delivered?
  • Have all residents been informed about social distancing, hand-washing and facemask guidelines?
  • Can I send packages to my loved one? Will they be set aside for 24 hours, or sanitized with disinfectant before being delivered?
  • Is there a window visitation station?
  • If my loved one needs help with social media, Zoom or email, can you help them set it up?
  • Are there any options for mental health check-ins, such as counseling?

While the pandemic is especially hard on those in group homes, there are ways to keep residents safe and also to help keep them connected with the outside world. When in doubt, ask the staff how they can help you and your loved one stay in touch while apart.

Masks up: why you need to be wearing a cloth mask

How to make a no-sew mask:

There are many no-sew patterns on the Internet. This one comes from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and requires a bandana or 20×20-inch square of cotton fabric (like an old t-shirt), rubber bands and scissors.

  1. Fold the bandana in half.
  2. Fold it into thirds by folding the top to the middle and then the bottom to the middle.
  3. Stick each end into a rubber band or hair tie. The two bands should be about six inches apart.
  4. Fold the right side to the middle and tuck it into the band.
  5. Fold the left side to the middle and tuck it into the band.
  6. Hold it up to your face with the seam against your mouth. Loop the bands over your ears.

Masks up: why you need to be wearing a cloth mask

If you have to leave your home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should try to wear a cloth mask to help stop the spread of the virus. Wearing a mask helps protect everyone in your community.

In a pandemic, the first line of defense is to stay home; it’s the only surefire way to keep the virus from spreading. But eventually, most of us will have to go out for groceries, medicine or just for fresh air. That’s when it’s important to wear a cloth mask.

The reason for masks is simple: many people who have the virus don’t know it. You could spread COVID-19 without knowing it. Every time you cough, blow your nose or even speak or breathe near another person, you could be spreading COVID-19 without knowing it. If you wear a cloth mask, you’ll help contain it.

When COVID-19 first hit the United States, there was a lot of changing information about whether or not we should all start wearing masks. In many other countries and especially in parts of Asia, cloth masks have always been widely used during cold and flu season. In the United States, it isn’t a very common practice. But experts agree: wear a cloth mask if you have to leave the house.

What a cloth mask can do

When you breathe or talk, you exhale tiny droplets of water that are too small to see or even notice. If you have COVID-19, it’s in those tiny droplets and those droplets get on everything within six feet of you – your hands, the groceries, the gas pump and other people.

If you’re breathing heavily, yelling, singing or coughing, they go even further than six feet.

But if you’re wearing a cloth mask, they won’t go as far and some of them won’t get past the mask at all.

Since it takes about two weeks for a person to start showing symptoms of COVID-19, everyone in grocery stores, restaurant takeout lines and gas stations could have the virus and not know it yet. If they’re all wearing masks, they help cut the risk of spreading it to other people.

But I’ve been isolating so I know I don’t have COVID-19!

If anyone in your home has left the house at all in the last two weeks, there’s a chance you do have COVID-19. While everyone should be staying at home unless they have to leave, most people have had to go out once or twice to get food, medicine or gas. When you do, you’re at risk, even if you’ve been careful to stay six feet away from other people. Just in case, wear a cloth mask when you go out to help protect other people.

Why a cloth mask?

Because the entire world is experiencing COVID-19 at the same time, there aren’t enough disposable masks for everyone. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are working with COVID-19 patients all the time need the disposable surgical masks and the larger N95 masks that protect against the virus. Doctors and nurses have to throw away those masks and get new ones every time they see a new patient. That means a hospital needs 240 disposable masks each day for each COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit; it adds up to about 10,000 masks a day for each hospital. Medical staff are wearing masks to see other patients too, just in case someone has COVID-19. Staff in nursing homes and long term care facilities need masks to help protect their residents.

There just aren’t enough disposable surgical masks for hospitals, other medical needs and the public.

That’s why cloth masks are so important now – they help stop the spread of COVID-19 in public without taking away from the supplies that hospitals need the most.

What a mask can’t do

A cloth mask will not keep you from getting COVID-19; neither will the disposable surgical masks that most healthcare workers use every day. The only masks that protect almost completely against COVID-19are the big heavy-duty N95 masks that healthcare workers wear around a COVID-19 patient.

Even with a mask on, when you’re outside of your home you should practice proper social distancing and hygiene. Stay six feet away from other people – more if you are exercising and breathing heavily. Wash your hands for 20 seconds as often as you can and use hand sanitizer if you can’t. Avoid touching your face; with or without a mask, your hands will pick up particles of virus if you have it – or will spread particles to your eyes, nose and mouth if they’ve touched it on surfaces.

Who shouldn’t wear a mask?

Children under the age of 2 should not wear a mask under any circumstances – it’s a suffocation risk. People with breathing problems may be unable to wear a mask. Everyone else should wear a mask whenever they leave their home.

How to wear a mask

Wash your hands first! And if your mask is reversible, mark the outside so if you have to take it off, you don’t accidentally put it back on inside-out. Don’t touch the fabric part of the mask – pick it up by the ear loops or by the ties. Position the mask so it covers everything from the bridge of your nose to beneath your chin and fit it snugly against your face. Don’t cheat! If you pull the mask up to talk on the phone or pull it down to breathe through your nose, it’s not working. Keep it completely on at all times when you’re outside of your home and don’t touch any part of it, except to adjust the ear loops or ties. When you get home, immediately take it off and set it aside to wash. It’s best to have more than one mask so you can wash them after each use, but if you only have one, spray both sides down with disinfectant when you get home and let it sit for a few hours before wearing it again.

So why should I wear a mask?

Wearing a mask helps protect other people from you. If everyone is wearing a mask, we all protect each other. It’s the right thing to do.

What is “social distancing” and how do we do it?

tape measure

Social distancing is a strategy to slow the spread of disease by, as the name implies, keeping our distance from each other in social situations. It means we avoid crowded places, don’t touch each other and stay at least six feet apart from other people when we are out in public.

Sounds easy, right? Who goes around randomly touching other people or crowding up with strangers on purpose?

Turns out, we all do and kicking the habit takes some thought.

Shaking hands

Shaking hands is such a tradition in the United States that even in the middle of a pandemic, we still do it.

It’s a tough habit to break especially when meeting new people and in business settings. Hugging close friends is another act that is hard to stop, since we do it so naturally so often.

Until March 2020, most of us never realized how many times a day we touch other people – not just to shake hands or hug, but to slap a colleague on the back, touch a friend’s arm when they’re feeling sad, or to reach out to admire a piece of jewelry on someone’s hand.

But it’s time to let go. Instead of shaking hands, hugging, kissing and slapping backs, just wave, nod or smile. Some newer greetings have been trending in the last few weeks as well.

  • The elbow bump has become the most popular and while it does bring people into closer contact than is recommended, it’s much better than shaking
  • Spock’s “live long and prosper” hand gesture from “Star Trek” is always a classic.
  • The Wakanda salute (making fists with your arms crossed over your chest) from “Black Panther” has been seen
  • And then there’s the good old-fashioned Victorian bow and In the modern age, it’s not gender-specific; the first person to move bows, the respondent curtseys.

Give one of them a try. Be silly, have fun, just keep your hands to yourself!

Wash, wash, wash, wash, wash. Rinse and repeat.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. As so many people have discovered lately, 20 seconds is a long time to scrub and count. Try making it fun by singing a 20-second song as you lather.

  • The Happy Birthday song, sung twice
  • The ABC song
  • “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”
  • The chorus to Beyoncé’s “Love on Top”
  • The chorus to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”
  • Queen’s chorus “We will, we will rock you” chanted three times
  • The chorus to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret”

And thanks to a story on National Public Radio, we found a hand-washing song website where you can type in your own favorite song and find out how many lines equal 20 seconds. You can even print out a poster of the lyrics with handwashing instructions to tape to your bathroom mirror.

Work meetings

Office workers have been complaining for years that “this meeting could have been an email.” The good news is, now it can be! In-person meetings are out and teleconferencing, emails and phone calls are in. If you can’t avoid an in-person meeting, keep it short and stay in a large room where participants can stay at least six feet from each other. Don’t forget to wipe the table and chairs down with bleach wipes before and after the meeting and don’t shake hands! Sound like a lot to ask? Try meeting by video chat instead. Or just send an email.


When we think of “crowds” we think of the press of people all leaving a sports arena at the same time. We think of mosh pits, of concerts, of throngs pushing their way into a Black Friday sale.

But in a pandemic, a “crowd” is just 10 people who are closer than six feet from each other. That means restaurants, weddings, church, waiting rooms, gyms, subway trains and sometimes even grocery stores.

How do you avoid all that? In many cities now, you don’t have much choice as events are being canceled and theaters and gyms are shutting down. If you live in a place where you do have a choice, try to figure out how to do the activity without the people. Instead of going to the gym, do your exercises at home or go for a run in the park. At work, avoid the breakroom and cafeteria. Don’t eat in restaurants at all — instead call for delivery or order take-out. Many restaurants that didn’t offer takeout before are doing it now so check with your favorites to see if takeout or even curbside delivery are their new norm. And instead of grocery shopping in person, use online order and delivery if you can. If you need to go in person, pick the least busy times, clean the cart handles with bleach wipes (provided at the front of most grocery stores) and sanitize your hands as soon as you’re done. Try to plan your grocery shopping in advance so you can cut down on the number of times you need to go out and you move through the store quickly.

In all cases, stay at least six feet away from the people around you, keep your hands off your face and if you have to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue or your elbow, not your hand.

Look but don’t touch!

Try to avoid frequently-touched surfaces like door handles. If you can push the door open with your foot, do it. If you can turn the public bathroom faucet on and off with your elbow or with a paper towel, do it. If you can walk up and down public steps without running your hand along the railing, do it. Try not to use cash – it passes through too many hands each day so use a credit or debit card instead. Carry your own pen for signing receipts instead of using the store’s pen

that gets picked up 100 times an hour. And when you’re done, always, always, always wash your hands.

See the world from your home

Of course, the best advice is to just stay home for a while if you can. Watch TV. Play a game, read a book or turn on your computer and check out one of the hundreds of free resources being offered to keep people inside during the pandemic. Your favorite bands are streaming free concerts. Newspaper sites have dropped their paywalls, museums are offering free virtual tours, aquariums and zoos have cameras streaming the animals 24/7 and the major movie studios are releasing this spring’s movies to the Internet for immediate rentals, rather than putting them in the theaters. Stay home, stay safe, and wash your hands!

How to talk to your children about COVID-19

dad talking to daughterHow do you talk to your kids about COVID-19 when there’s so much changing day to day.? It’s normal to feel worried, but how do you reassure your children when you aren’t sure yourself?

It’s the question on every parent’s mind, especially as parents and children become isolated in homes together all day, every day. Every family and every child is different but the bottom line is that children need to feel safe, they need to feel loved and they need to feel empowered.

Here are some tips to help communicate with your children:

  1. Pay attention to your tone of voice. Children of every age need to feel safe.hat sometimes has more to do with your tone of voice and body language than your words. Work on a calm, reassuring tone of voice and let your children know that all of the adults around them, including their parents, teachers and community leaders, are doing everything to keep them safe.
  2. Don’t lie to them. Be honest and accurate. Don’t tell them everything will be fine if you don’t believe it yourself; stick to what you can say honestly.  It’s okay to tell them that doctors and scientists are still learning about this virus.
  3. Let them know it’s okay to be scared. Maybe you are scared yourself and, depending on your children’s age and maturity, you may want to tell them that you are also a little scared. Let them know that it’s okay to be scared when the situation is scary; in fact, it’s smart to be scared because being scared makes you careful. Make sure to remind them that they can be brave and scared at the same time.
  4. Let your children talk and ask questions  so you don’t overwhelm them with too much information. Answer the questions they ask but don’t bog them down with extra data. The simplest explanation: “The coronavirus is a very tiny germ – too small to see, but it gets in people’s bodies through their eyes, nose or mouth and it makes them sick. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands a lot – washing hands kills the germs.  We try not to touch our faces so we don’t get the germs near our eyes and nose and mouth.   We stay out of large groups of people, where it’s easier to spread germs. If everyone does those things, we can stop the germs from spreading.” Older children may understand social distancing in the analogy of a firebreak – removing fuel around a wildfire to keep it from spreading outward. When we practice social distancing, we’re removing ourselves as “fuel” for the germs, keeping COVID-19 from spreading through us to our friends, coworkers and classmates.“I think what is helpful for parents in supporting their children, is to assist them to learn to be in control even in a scary situation,” said Dr. Bethany Geldmaker, project director for VMAP and Developmental Screening. “Parents can set a good example and empower their children to take precautionary measures like washing hands, coughing into a tissue or sleeve, eating healthy foods, exercise and getting enough sleep.”
  5. Be aware of your language. Avoid using terms that stigmatize or blame any race, culture or ethnicity. This is a global crisis and we fight it as a global team.
  6. Model the behavior you want to encourage. That includes attitude, words and habits. If you want your children to stay positive and upbeat, do your best to stay positive and upbeat yourself. Children learn from their parents through imitation.  If you want your children to wash their hands often, wash your own hands often. If you want your children to eat healthy food, eat healthy food yourself. They’re watching you. Also, speak up! Children with special healthcare needs and chronic conditions are at higher risk for complications related to COVID-19. School and business closing may affect the availability of therapies and support, so parents need to work closely with providers to ensure public health guidelines are implemented.
  7. Practice good hygiene. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice at a normal pace takes 20 seconds). Teach them to sneeze into their elbow, rather than their hand (they probably already know this – schools have been teaching this for a number of years). And make sure they get in the habit of using hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when they can’t get to soap and water.
  8. Be empathetic. Don’t try to minimize their feelings or tell them not to worry – reassure them, but let them have feelings; they’re having the same feelings that many adults are.
  9. Limit what they see and hear in the news. Too much information on COVID-19 can cause anxiety or trauma. Pay attention to the tv or radio news playing in the background near the children and adult conversation happening around them.
  10. Give them a mission. Children need to feel empowered so let them do their part to fight the pandemic or protect their families. Ask them for ideas about things they think would help and then give them opportunities to follow through, whether it’s writing hopeful messages in chalk on the sidewalk or just being sure to wash their hands at regular intervals. Kids (and adults) who feel empowered don’t feel as afraid.

And remember Mr. Rogers. The iconic children’s host was frequently consulted about how to talk to children during national emergencies. He said he always remembered what his mother told him during catastrophes when he was a child: “Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers – just on the sidelines. If you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.”

FAQ for children

What is Coronavirus or COVID? 

COVID-19 is the short name for “Coronavirus disease 2019” and it’s a new kind of germ that we’re still learning about. It’s made a lot of people sick and most of them will get well but if everyone gets sick at the same time, it’s hard for doctors and nurses to help them all. We want to keep everyone from getting sick at the same time.

What if I get COVID-19?

Children don’t usually get COVID-19 and the ones who do haven’t gotten very sick – they just felt bad for a few days and then they got better. If you get COVID-19, we’ll do the same thing we always do when you’re sick – we’ll put you to bed with crackers and liquids and cartoons for a couple of days until you feel better.

Does anyone get really sick?

Yes, some people who are older or who are already sick can get pretty sick and they need doctors and nurses. That’s why we’re trying to keep from spreading COVID-19; to keep them from all needing doctors at the same time.

How do I help?

Wash your hands a lot for 20 seconds every time! Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, not your hand. Don’t touch your face (to keep germs from getting into your body). You can do your part by  staying out of crowds of people for a couple of weeks.  If as many people as possible can stay home, we can help stop COVID-19.

Weekly Message – October 15, 2018

Dear Colleagues:

Well, my “Listening Tour” of the Commonwealth got off to a fantastic start in Charlottesville this past week. I hope you all have had a chance to see the news clip from the NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, and there was a good article in the October 12th issue of Charlottesville’s newspaper, The Daily Progress. Some 100 people filled the University of Virginia’s Alumni Hall on October 10th to participate in a Town Hall discussion with me about public health. Earlier in the day, I had a wonderful and enlightening discussion with the staff at the Louisa Health Department, who educated me about the health concerns of the population they serve. Later, in Charlottesville, I had the opportunity to go out on a restaurant inspection.

This coming week, the “Listening Tour” heads to southwest Virginia. On Wednesday, October 17th, I’ll be speaking at UVA Wise, and, on October 18th, I’ll join colleagues from DMAS and DBHDS at an event in Roanoke aimed at increasing provider participation in Medicaid expansion.

One of the major themes I’ll address during the tour is the need to ensure living conditions that promote health and foster well-being, including our most vulnerable populations – rural communities and communities of color. We seek to conduct our efforts to improve population health through a health equity lens. Along those lines, I want to encourage all those who can do so to attend this week’s “Health Equity Conference and Think Tank,” which is our Office of Health Equity’s inaugural national conference. The gathering, entitled “Sowing the Seeds of Health Equity: Growing Healthy, Connected Communities,” will be held October 17-18. Register today!

Finally, October is “Domestic Violence Awareness” month. We’re posting an infographic on our Web site to highlight the need to end domestic and intimate partner violence. Let’s all do what we can to end this violence.

Have a great week!


(Pronouns: he, his, him)

Patients Come First – Dr. M. Norman Oliver

This episode of the Patients Come First podcast features an interview with Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver about his focus on population health, a mid-career decision to attend medical school in his 40s, his work treating Native people in a small Alaskan village, his role with the Commonwealth, and much more. Send questions, comments, or feedback to pcfpodcast@vhha.com or contact us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/virginiahha) using the hashtag #PatientsComeFirst.

Weekly Message – August 6, 2018

Dear Colleagues

As I mentioned last week, the Deputy Commissioners, the Operations Directors, John Ringer (our Director of Strategic Planning), and myself recently held a leadership retreat. Our retreat focused on the functioning of the leadership team and working toward greater clarity on the direction of the agency.

As State Health Commissioner, I depend upon the team of Deputy Commissioners and Operations Directors. This team discusses the weekly activity of the agency, the strategic and programmatic direction of VDH, and fulfills a fiduciary responsibility as the financial stewards of the agency. I need their input, their counsel, and their decision-making authority to ensure the smooth functioning and well-being of VDH. I have asked that we establish a “Commissioner’s Leadership Team,” comprising the Deputy Commissioners and the Operations Directors. This Commissioner’s Leadership Team will take the place of the “Deputy Leadership Team.”

I noted last week, “Cohesive, behaviorally unified teams trust one another. They engage in unfiltered conflict and debate around ideas. They commit to decisions and action plans. They hold one another accountable to delivering against those plans. They focus on achieving results for the team. (See Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team for a brilliant depiction of what constitutes a good team.) Here’s a cartoon, depicting the five dysfunctions and the reasons teams need to overcome them:

Inattention to results. Focus on delivering measurable results: collective and individual, accountability, feedback. Avoidance of accountability. To take accountability require prior commitment: 100% buy-in. Lack of Commitment. Commitment follows health conflict: hear all  disagreedecisionbuy-inone voice. Feat of conflict. Health conflict implies candid debate: trust to speak opinion without fear of retribution. Absence of Trust. Building Trust requires vulnerability: courage to risk.

Trust is a foundational behavior of well-functioning teams. As I explained last week, we did some work on further building trust among the senior leadership team. One of the tools that we used for this work was to develop a “Team Covenant” that put into written form the behaviors needed to ensure a highly reliable, well-functioning team. Here’s the covenant of the Commissioner’s Leadership Team:

VDH Commissioner’s Leadership Team Covenant

We will:

  1.  Come to CLT not as advocates for our own shops, but with VDH’s strategic goals foremost in mind.
  2. Assume positive intention and full trust.
  3. Speak up and share divergent views.
  4. Encourage constructive dissent.
  5. Pledge that, once we have made a decision, we will be unified and committed to the decision’s success.
  6. Communicate with respect and professionalism.
  7. We will always ensure we are very clear about “who, what, when” and assign ownership for follow up when we make a decision or decide to decide later.
  8. Innovate and challenge the status quo.
  9. Be clear on who has the appropriate decision rights.
  10. Have the courage to acknowledge when we fall short or break this Covenant, and will work with our Team members to get back in Covenant.

If you catch one of the deputies, an Ops Director, or myself acting in accordance with our covenant, let us know. Reinforce that behavior! Of course, we’re human beings; so, if you notice us breaking our covenant, give us a little nudge to help us get back on track. I hope other leadership teams in the agency will emulate us and develop covenants of their own. If we all start behaving in congruence with our values, VDH can go from being a good organization to a truly great one.

Have a great week!


(Pronouns: he, his, him)


Weekly Message July 30, 2018

Dear Colleagues:

The Deputy Leadership Team (DLT), Operations Directors, and John Ringer (our Director of Strategic Planning), met in a retreat on July 27 and 28. The focus of this day-and-a-half-long leadership retreat was to enhance the functioning of the team and to work toward greater clarity on the direction of the agency. Over the next several weeks, I’ll discuss the various issues we grappled with at the retreat and the results of that work.

Today, I’d like to tell you all that we spent a good deal of time exploring the characteristics of highly engaged and well-functioning teams. Cohesive, behaviorally unified teams trust one another. They engage in unfiltered conflict and debate around ideas. They commit to decisions and action plans. They hold one another accountable to delivering against those plans. They focus on achieving results for the team. (See Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team for a brilliant depiction of what constitutes a good team.)

Trust is a foundational behavior of well-functioning teams. At the retreat, we did some work on further building trust among the DLT members and Ops Directors. Of course, building trust in any team occurs over time through shared experiences, multiple instances of proven follow-through, and developing an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of each team member. However, we used the retreat as a way to accelerate that process through some focused work. We learned a lot about each other’s personal histories. We identified the unique strengths we each bring to the team, as well as the things we each struggle with in advancing the work of the team. We also revisited the personality profile we each completed as part of the “Leadership Essentials” course that many of you have taken, as well. Understanding the behavioral preferences and personality styles of team members helps to build trust and team cohesion.

One of the lessons we reaffirmed in our retreat is the importance of aligning our behavior with the core values of the organization. The core values of VDH are accountability, communication, diversity, equity, excellence, integrity, respect, and stewardship. You can find these values listed and expanded upon in the VDH Code of Ethics, which I encourage you all to read. In a future “Weekly Message,” I’ll talk about some steps we took at the retreat to help us behave in a manner that is congruent with these values.

Meanwhile, the VDH senior leadership team is refreshed, rejuvenated, and re-energized following our retreat. We return to the central office hopeful about our ability to help you all be successful in your work and in the ability of VDH to play a central role in improving the health and well-being of the Commonwealth.


Have a great week!


(Pronouns: he, his, him)