Is no news really good news?

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

Long-term care doesn't exist in a vacuum. Every once in awhile, the issues you face in your facilities each day “leak” out of the healthcare realm and on to the pages of a major newspaper, for better or for worse.

We've seen it happen with the Wall Street Journal's report into Ultra High therapy billing. The New York Times has taken two swings at it in the past year, with in-depth stories on nursing home arbitration and the effect of rising obesity rates on the industry.

On Friday, the Washington Post and Kaiser Health News dedicated a report to an issue McKnight's readers will recognize all too well: the risks and miscommunications that can occur following a patient's hospital discharge.

The report identifies poor transitional care as a “huge, huge issue for everybody,” but more so for older adults with complex medical needs and comorbidities. Miscommunications, medication errors and inadequate care plans plague the care transition, the Post asserts, and are largely due to a lack of organization and connectivity between care settings.

While the report does “call out” nursing homes in a way — citing a 2013 federal report that found one-third of facilities fail to meet care and discharge planning requirements — it also cuts the industry some slack by touching upon one of the major barriers providers face when it comes to care transitions: lack of funding.

Nursing homes were left out of the government's $30 billion push towards EHR interoperability, the report acknowledges, leaving the various care settings “not adequately connected” enough to improve care coordination and reduce errors.

“Most people don't know this is a problem,” the daughter of a woman who died following a post-discharge medication error told the Post. “They assume doctors are talking to each other, until they experience it, and it's not the case.”

While newspaper reports like these are largely meant for consumers, there can be a silver lining in it for the long-term care industry. The report's closing quote, about people not knowing about the issues that plague care transitions, may have been meant as a cautionary tale to consumers.

But it could also be read as a positive of these major newspaper stories: they bring to light issues that many outside the industry just don't know about.

In the April issue of McKnight's, we asked long-term care professionals what they wish people outside the profession knew about it. Among the most common answers were the amount of hard work and compassion the profession requires from its workers and battling stereotypes about the industry.

Will we soon see the New York Times do an expose on the long hours put in by nursing home staff, or the positive changes the long-term care sector is undergoing? It's not likely.

But stories like this week's Washington Post report can give people some insights into the issues facing the industry, even if it does come with a consumer-centric skew. The stories can even give providers as a chance to put in a good word for themselves, as we saw with the American Health Care Association's response to a NYT report on therapy.

Will the press always be positive? No. But any press on long-term care can present a chance to open up a dialogue between industry insiders and consumers, and that's a good place to start.

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.


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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