ManorCare panel: laudable gesture or lip service?

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Last Friday, I wrote about a new quality committee formed by HCR ManorCare. I immediately received some negative feedback about the company's move.

The Service Employees International Union was quick to pounce on my favorable stance. ManorCare shouldn’t need a committee to improve quality, an SEIU spokeswoman told me over the phone.

“You’re a nursing home company,” Julie Eisenhardt, the SEIU spokeswoman told me. “Quality care should be what you’re in the business of providing.”

She also sent me stories from the SEIU’s Web site, http://carlylefixmanorcarenow.org/, which offers its take on the new panel: “Carlyle-ManorCare’s decision to refer the issue of quality to a committee falls far short of the real and immediate action needed to improve quality of care for its residents,” it said.

The SEIU also noted that the committee is not as “independent” as the company has touted, pointing out that committee member Gail Wilensky served on the ManorCare board as recently as last year and collected a more than $1 million windfall from the The Carlyle Group buyout. She also served as vice-chair of the Maryland Health Care Commission -- a state regulatory body that issued approval for the sale, according to the SEIU.

Of course, not everyone was so quick to bash the new panel. One blog reader spoke up for the committee and its members. (See more comments below the May 9 entry.)

So the question remains: Is the committee merely a PR stunt, or a legitimate way to address quality concerns? I believe that this point remains to be seen.

I might be swayed to thinking that the committee is just a pr move if it weren’t for the high-caliber of talent selected to serve on it.

- Vincent Mor, a well-known university researcher, just a couple years ago completed a comprehensive report for the National Commission for Quality Long-Term Care about challenges facing the long-term care field.

- Robyn Stone is the architect behind Better Jobs Better Care, which is dedicated to improving the hiring, retention and recognition of frontline staff. She also, by the way, works for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, an association that represents the nonprofit sector. I doubt she would want to jeopardize her credibility with AAHSA or her reputation in the field by acting as a quality stooge for a chain that is already suffering from a public image problem.

- As for Wilensky, I would find it hard to believe that she, too, is not concerned about care improvements. Based on her interests in ManorCare, however, the company would have been wise to choose one of dozens of other highly qualified experts to avoid allegations of conflict of interest.

While I don't believe that the committee is pure grandstanding, I agree with the SEIU that the panel is not a replacement for hiring trained staff at livable wages and benefits. Appointing the committee is one thing; listening to the expert panelists and acting on their suggestions is another.

If the company can use the committee to truly better itself – developing improved hiring practices, for example, then the company is acting admirably. If not, then it is just proving the naysayers’ right.
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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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