Michael Jacobson is one of the healthcare heroes working as the administrator at Elevate Care Waukegan. Michael has been in the industry for years but only started at his current facility in the past year.
It has been quite the journey to his current job. Michael says, “My first job was in a pizza place when I was 15 years old. Then I studied hospitality management and though I enjoyed it, I wasn’t planning on being a hotelier or work on a cruise ship.”
Building bridges and gaining skills
Professionally, Michael started out in the property management world, but he says, “It really wasn’t something that I saw myself doing in the long run. I liked working with people but questioned what direction I wanted to take in my career.”
Michael also worked in medical and geriatric-psychiatry units. He says, “It’s different than your typical nursing homes because they take patients who experience homelessness, drug addiction, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.”
Skills from his past experiences help Michael serve as an effective administrator. His interest in hospitality has proven beneficial in his new line of work. “The way that I approach working in a nursing home is definitely through the hospitality lens,” says Michael.
From working in medpsych, Michael became fully aware of how much patience is needed in the industry. Michael says, “You really must keep in mind that these residents’ behaviors are not aimed at you but are a part of their medical diagnosis. Because of that, much patience is needed to keep focused on what’s going on and who you are caring for.”
Transitioning during the pandemic
For the last five years, Michael has worked in the nursing home industry. Michael joined the Elevate Care Waukegan team during the pandemic and has worked in three of their facilities.
Despite starting a leadership position during the pandemic, Michael has met the demands together with his team. He says, “It’s definitely been a challenge to come into a family of people who have gone through war together since the beginning of this pandemic. It’s important as a leader to be able to get your feet wet and your hands dirty to build trust. It’s a learning experience for everybody and takes time, but in the end we are all on the same team.”
Although the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the skilled nursing industry, Michael says, “There are always fires and always something going on. The same policies we are implementing for COVID we have implemented for norovirus outbreaks or the flu. The staff is used to the PPE, the cohorting and testing.”
Michael continues, “The major difference is that because COVID is so new there are many unknowns. When you break it down to its essential values, it’s really not so different from other outbreaks. It’s just ever-changing policies and procedures to stay on top of.”
For new residents, the initial quarantine and limited interactions is a challenging transition to their new home. Michael says, “Their first interaction is with the staff members coming into their room, or video calling with their loved ones. There is no substitute for human interaction, but the staff does an amazing job trying to simulate that for the residents.”
Positivity as a key to skilled nursing leadership
There are so many variables to being a great SNF manager. According to Michael, some of these include, “Showing your staff that you support them and actually care. Having a positive attitude is extremely important. We all make mistakes, and it’s important your staff knows that we learn to fix it and move forward.”
Part of being a great worker and leader is through learning. “Life is a learning experience, work is a learning experience and management is a learning experience,” says Michael.
Michael says parenting adds to his leadership toolkit. “Being a father has definitely made me a better manager. It has made me more patient and realistic. Both in parenting and management, it’s about positivity. You have to stay positive especially now when so many people are burnt out, frustrated and scared of the uncertainty.”
Positivity is a word that is commonly thrown around but takes work to achieve. Michael says, “Everyone has challenges, but you have to be able to take a step back and appreciate what you have. Nursing home staff see residents with failing health who still find things to be thankful for. It’s about reframing our perspectives.”
He continues, “Those who work in the nursing home or service industry innately care about other people and have a desire to help better their lives. It shows us not to take things for granted like getting up in the morning on our own, using the washroom or getting dressed independently. Both helping other people and switching to this gratitude attitude infuses positivity into work and life.”
Helping people understand what they can be grateful for and showing them the difference they are making can cultivate a positive work culture. Michael says, “Every organization strives to maximize efficiency and strives to achieve. Showing inspirational videos in team meetings elicits a deep emotional response and helps to build the culture of empathy, compassion, mindfulness and positivity.”
Constructive criticism through the positivity lens is key to skilled nursing leadership
Constructive criticism also plays a major role in leadership. Michael says, “I really do appreciate constructive criticism. I strive to be a great manager, father, husband and leader.”
His approach to constructive criticism has been years in the making. He says, “When I was younger I played baseball and whenever I had something to work on, my coach would help show how I could do it better. I learned that the criticism came because my coach knew I could perform better. This is how I try to approach constructive criticism with my staff, by showing them I believe in them enough to know they can improve.”
Part of being a good leader is knowing how to deliver constructive criticism to different personality types. Michael continues, “The approach differs depending on personalities. With some people, you can tell them outright to change while with others a more gentle, cautious and understanding approach is needed.”
Now, with vaccinations starting to roll out, Michael is hopeful residents will soon see their families again, resume group activities and move forward with positivity.