Opinion: Don't forget why you're here

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Hundreds of thousands of people are placed in nursing homes each year. Almost all the new admissions are old, sick and frail. Few are happy with the prospect. And what do they — and their loved ones — expect?

Just a few important things.
First, they want the peace of mind that comes with knowing you'll provide the services and comfort that are needed. They want to know you'll deliver the best care possible. Mostly, they want to be able to trust you. That's not much of a list when you think about it. But like desert-survival rules, they can be fatal if ignored.
Yet when you look at the many guides designed to help consumers find a good facility, a much different scenario emerges. The guides have become checklists that help relatives cope with the unpleasant task of finding a facility, preferably as fast as possible. And what do these guides tell prospective customers to do?
• Determine payment methods.
• Find out how many facilities are located nearby.
• See how relatively well a prospective facility meets licensing standards.
• Swing by for a quick visit, if possible.
Not much there to address peace of mind. I don't mean to dismiss or belittle the guides. They can help, and certainly should figure into the mix. But they really don't do much to assuage the fear, anxiety, guilt or other negative emotions that accompany putting a loved one in a facility.
The reality for most people who don't work in this profession is that nursing home placement is sort of like a blind wedding. Customers are hoping for the best, but they're more than a little afraid of what they're getting into.
And the way many nursing home operators are perceived is enough to give one pause. Despite what some may think, facilities were not created so regulations could be followed. Nor were they put in place as hospitals' DRG dumping grounds. And they certainly weren't built because someone thought the country needed a sinkhole for Medicaid or Medicare dollars.
In some corners, it's now fashionable to portray nursing homes as overly-expensive and a poor eldercare option. But to summarily dismiss the critical role that nursing homes play is more than insulting. It invites devastating consequences.
At their core, facilities exist because they fill a need. All of us, if we live long enough, will reach a point where we can no longer function independently. We can only hope that providers will be there for us when that day comes. That facilities are there now for so many needy people merits praise, not ridicule.
John O'Connor, Vice President, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
john.oconnor@mltcn.com