Maybe it's time for ADAPT to adapt

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

What kind of cruel, heartless person could openly criticize disabled people in wheelchairs? I guess that cruel, heartless person would have to be me.

For decades, the people who run Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today have used people with disabilities like pawns. Their cynical ploy has been carried out so ADAPT could get what it wants — largely at the expense of skilled care operators.

The first time I saw these tactics up close and personal was in Nashville in 1993. That's when ADAPT decided to crash the American Health Care Association's annual meeting. Nearly 100 demonstrators were arrested after attempting to enter the convention illegally. While describing nursing homes as inhumane, they demanded that a quarter of the Medicaid funds used for skilled care be redirected toward attendant programs.

The organization's views were staunch and inflexible then. They apparently remain staunch and inflexible now. Earlier this month, ADAPT protesters met in Washington to again blast nursing homes, and to insist that more Medicaid funds be redirected toward attendant programs.

Just so we're clear, I do not have a problem with the disabled having access to attendant programs. But I do have a problem with the tactics ADAPT is using. To paint all nursing homes as lousy is an insult to the thousands of caregivers working in facilities each day.

As for the organization's claim that attendant services would be more cost effective? I'd like to see some actual proof. Remember the ill-fated push to replace nursing homes with home care nurses in the early 1990s? That movement fizzled when the people paying the bills realized how quickly nursing hours in a home setting would exceed skilled care outlays.

My heart goes out to people with disabilities. And I sincerely hope that every disabled person in this country gets the best care possible.

But here's the thing: We do not live in world of unlimited tax dollars. That means that choices need to be made. Generally speaking, robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a good one.

So my advice to disabled Americans who belong to ADAPT is this: Quit doing the dirty work for people who have convinced you that blasting nursing homes and defunding them will make you free. For more than two decades, that tactic has been little more than an example of how not to get things done

Perhaps a better idea is to petition lawmakers and make a case that stands on its own merits. And for what it's worth, maybe it's also time to quit describing all nursing homes as inhumane hellholes. It's mean-spirited, and terribly unfair.

And while you're at it, maybe it's also time to have a hard conversation with the people who keep making you do their dirty work. For if we've learned anything about ADAPT's tried and untrue methods over the years, it's this: They don't actually seem to be making things better for anyone.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

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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