When blinding conditions open the eyes

James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

It would be reasonable to think that a storm that caused dozens of deaths and the shutdown of federal government offices is a bad thing, a very bad thing. But you would be only half right.

You can insert your own joke about struggling to know when Washington is shut down or just in regular no-progress mode. But last weekend's huge blizzard in the mid-Atlantic states could end up being a boost to long-term care professionals from coast to coast.

That's because the extreme conditions presented a prime opportunity to show how extraordinarily dedicated long-term care professionals can be.

We monitor all things LTC pretty closely here, and while we can't say for sure that no long-term care provider or resident wasn't severely harmed by the record-breaking snowfall, we do know for certain that it brought out the best in many of you.

On Tuesday, for example, we reported on the heartwarming story of a young, single mother who walked for an hour through blizzard conditions to take care of residents at the job she began only six months earlier at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale in New York. Others at her community basically camped out for the weekend to cover for colleagues stranded with no way to get back to work.

Similarly, more than 100 employees at Levindale Hebrew Home Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore arrived at work Friday morning and stayed at least through Monday without returning home to take care of their frail and elderly residents in need.

And then there's something even as simple as this excellent tale out of Kentucky, where the administrator at Oakview Care and Rehabilitation Center stayed a few nights at the community rather than going home, knowing that the unusual snowfall might create special needs.

She was right in at least one unexpected way, and she wound up bringing an elderly resident an unforgettable thrill. She led him outside in the middle of a sleepless night to rediscover snow — and the joy of throwing a snowball at someone.

So what does all of this snow talk have to do with providers around the country, including those in continually hot and sweaty parts? Plenty.

The reason the snow survivors mean so much to you is simple: By going above and beyond, and in many cases waaaaaay beyond, these creative, hard-working LTC sisters and brothers have brought honor to the profession. What's more, they're being widely recognized for it. These are the good guys making headlines. That is significant, though not frequent enough.

My wife, who does not work in long-term care, said she also saw the story of Riverdale blizzard walker story — while surfing some mainstream media outlet. (She always reads her McKnight's Daily Update and McKnight's Long-Term Care News a little later in the day.)

That general news story struck her as heartwarming and praiseworthy. Of course, that nurse aide was not the only one to make sacrifices, but her role was a good example for the profession that stands out — again, in a good way. Tens of thousands of readers, possibly hundreds of thousands, know her story now. This is crucial to realize, and hopefully emulate.

It didn't happen by accident. It couldn't have, unless our hardy nurse just happened to be wandering by some stranded New York Daily News reporters looking for good story ideas in a blizzard. The story took on new life, as Riverdale officials welcomed a photographer to take pictures — gasp! actually in their facility. Another good lesson for professionals often in search of ways to burnish their reputation.

Which brings up the point: When's the last time you sought out and shared the good news of your hard working employees? Does it take a blizzard? Or a hurricane? Granted, it might take extraordinary circumstances for some mainstream media outlets to take notice. But what have you done to bridge the gaps to get coverage?

Do your workers perform good work only in extenuating circumstances? Trick question. The answer has to be “no,” or you wouldn't remain in business.

So when they are doing their high-quality work, does someone make sure it gets an extra level of awareness? This would, no doubt, create goodwill among your workers, residents and, hopefully, their family members. And do you celebrate regularly, not just when a catastrophe is overcome? Well, why in heaven's name not?

Of course, many providers do try to recognize employees regularly, but it likely still could be kicked up a notch. Check out page 14 of this Life Care Centers of America publication to see one great way to recognize the good, great and fantastic that your workers regularly do.

As a long-term care operator, food and labor are your biggest cost centers. But remember this: Telling a pan of lasagna or a plate of chicken tetrazzini that it's doing a good job isn't going to get you much.

Complimenting your staff, however … now that's going to hit the jackpot. It helps to do it in front of others, but if that's not possible or practical, do it just for them anyway. And if you can get the circumstances to someone who can spread the word even wider than you — perhaps your social media manager or a reporter at a local news outlet — all the better.

The great snowstorm of Jan. 22-24 might have served a warning for public works departments throughout a region. But it should also be a wake-up call for long-term care providers around the country.

Recognize your star performers (and even those who might wear “just” a “darned good” label) and it will pay off many times over — for you and the profession.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @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 Emily Mongan.

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