Out of the bad we shall find good

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

“Out of the bad we shall find good.” That sounds kind of biblical, doesn't it? But I didn't hear it while sitting in a pew on a Sunday. It came from a resolute skilled nursing manager I was talking with a while back.

I don't recall if she said it in response to the latest government slam on nursing home operators or in the wake of a horrible natural disaster, but it came back to mind this week, for sure. This month there is still the unfolding Hurricane Harvey story, of course, which recalls the time 12 years ago when Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, bringing devastation to millions — and damning headlines to the nursing home profession.

Nursing home owners/operators Sal and Mabel Mangano were put on trial after they did not evacuate their nursing home's residents and more than 30 drowned. A levee broke and their building filled with water. The Manganos were acquitted promptly when the case went to the jury, but that was long after they were first pilloried around the world in the press and court of public opinion.

That's why I like the "good out of bad" quote above. Out of that disaster, and other elder deaths related to Katrina, came good, such as much better emergency preparedness and greater awareness of providers' overall needs and challenges.

The McKnight's cover story (at left) after Katrina showed just one of many gallant rescues by long-term care professionals, in this case an administrator comforting a resident in a wheelchair as a boat whisks them to safety. “RISING TO THE OCCASION” was the powerful headline on the October 2005 cover story that showed residents being taken to safety by rescuers.

Much was learned from that ordeal, including hard lessons about the enhancement of emergency planning. No matter how much was gained — and it was considerable in the years following, providers and the residents in their care will still always be vulnerable. Harvey was proving that almost by the hour even as this article was being written.

The first “viral” image that spread around the world showed assisted living residents up to their laps in flood waters (incorrectly labeled by many mainstream news outlets as “nursing home” residents). They wound up OK a little while later, but it caught people's attention. 

Then, there's the fantastic story about one sister facility evacuating residents to another.

I like to draw upon it for numerous reasons. For one, there's no question that as long-term care professionals, you are presented with a lot of bad: residents and patients in bad health, bad funding scenarios, bad-to-worse regulatory burdens, bad staffing challenges and the list goes on.

But at the core of all you do is always the good. And you are ultimately doing good. (Yes, that is grammatically correct, all of you eagle-eyed readers out there!) The good that you do includes improving people's comfort and care, and extending living options when others have run out of them.

So when a skilled nursing professional says, “We shall find good,” it comes with a stamp of pride.

It's the same pride I sensed from a provider upon reading what must be considered the profession's quote of the year so far. It came in our McKnight's Daily Update item on Monday titled “SNF turns therapy gym into makeshift bedroom to house residents evacuated by Hurricane Harvey.”

In brief, the story tells of how one sister facility nearly doubled in census before Harvey hit when it welcomed Houston-area residents to their Austin-area building. This was about 200 miles out of harm's way — all the better so that hospitals and rescue operations in the danger zone wouldn't be hampered.

This was emergency planning and execution at its finest. It wasn't easy, but it was successful.

More than 100 employees of Park Manor (the receiving facility) worked overtime through the weekend to care for their new, temporary residents from Gulf Point Plaza in Rockport, TX.

Park Manor Director of Nursing Johnielle Johnson told Austin's KXAN that her facility was taking measures to make sure that “we don't have any break in care from where they came from to here.”

“Life is unpredictable,” Johnson said, “but what is predictable is how we treat others.” 

Truly, a great quote in trying times.

On Wednesday, however, disturbing images were being broadcast by Houston's KFDM. It put a reporter and cameraman into the hallways of Lake Arthur Place in Port Arthur, TX, which had at least a foot of water throughout. Distressed residents lined the hallways on beds and gurneys.

Astoundingly, the cameraman shot lengthy footage Wednesday afternoon inside the battered building, and the station posted more than 15 minutes of it. It showed reporter James Ware trying to engage anyone who would talk to him while sloshing through the shin-high water up and down the hallways.

At one point, Ware tried to milk comment out of employees at the facility, whom he told, “You're probably not supposed to talk” before asking away. The dazed nurse's response was heartfelt and nearly inaudible. 

Although the video was apparently removed from the KFDM website by Wednesday night, something tells me we'll be hearing a lot more about that video and the way the reporter was allowed to roam the halls and ask questions virtually at will.

By Wednesday night, a press officer for Senior Care Centers had released a statement saying that both Lake Arthur Place and nearby Cypress Glen were “in the process of evacuating” with the assistance of the Coast Guard and “other appropriate organizations.” Some are crediting postings to social media for getting the facilities evacuated by a flotilla of volunteers with boats. 

With the dangerous waters starting to recede, authorities in Southeast Texas were starting to report a rising death toll late Wednesday, as more areas became accessible. There is usually not a lot of good news to discover at times like this. Pragmatists must steel themselves for this.

But regardless, providers and other stakeholders already have at least a few good stories to cling to. The practical optimist should expect more to be out there as this developing story continues.

Follow Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.


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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 Marty Stempniak.