For long-term care operators, there's no time for a pity party

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

By any objective measure, these are amazingly difficult times for the skilled care sector. Staffing remains as problematic as ever. Occupancy levels have dipped below 82%.  Public funding is getting squeezed as expectations rise. Oh, and by the way, assisted living and home care operators are looking to tap into the post-acute business.

So, yes, skilled care operators have their work cut out for themselves. But I have to say I'm feeling better about the sector's prospects after spending some time at last week's NIC Spring Investment Forum in San Diego.

To be sure, it wasn't all sugarplums, rainbows and unicorns there. The general consensus is that scale is the new game, and if you happen to be a smaller operator, you might want to consider tapping out.

Help is on the way, however. The key, says CEO Robert Kramer, is to have two strategies: One for the long term, and another that gets you through the current rough slog.

Believe it or not, that long-promised age-wave tsunami will actually soon be here.  It's very possible we will be looking at a skilled care facility shortage on the other  side of 2020.

Kramer also noted how new partnerships that connect operators with other supportive services may finally end the silo-based approach that has dominated this sector for decades. These new arrangements will be a key to better care at lower costs.

We are starting to see operators collaborate and innovate in ways that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And from the looks of things, operators are just getting started.

To be sure, this is a sector that has always faced more than its share of challenges. That reality is probably not going to go away any time soon. But operators in this field have an amazing survival instinct. They have almost always been able to meet new challenges that  come along.

There is  a lot of  work that  has  to be done. But my guess is that the skilled care option will be around long after any of us will need  it. 

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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