Writer's remorse: Maybe I should not have said that

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James M. Berklan, Editor
James M. Berklan, Editor
Nowadays there are all too many writers making the story about themselves. This is a violation of a traditional journalism tenet that I like to adhere to. But this time I can't help it.

Ever since completing a Profile piece on Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) for our May 2007 issue, I've been haunted by lines I wrote.

“Low-key leader,” we called the chairman of the Special Committee on Aging on the front page. 

“The overriding feeling from the chairman of five months …  is that he is not someone the nursing home industry should fear,” I added in the article.

The ink was hardly dry on the page before Kohl seemed to set out to prove me wrong. Within days, he held a hearing where he castigated both providers and regulators for allowing too much substandard care. He called for tougher oversight and demanded updates from regulators every two months.

There have been other shots across providers' bows since. Always with a few compliments for providers mixed in, but stern reminders, nonetheless, that better care was expected.

The final blow came in February, when the usually congenial Kohl reached across the aisle to team up with noted nursing-home antagonist Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). The pair made providers nationwide recoil when they unveiled the curmudgeonly “Nursing Home Transparency and Improvement Act of 2008.” 

Much more information on owners. More audits. Far bigger possible fines. A brand new federal oversight  program for nursing home chains.

About the only thing they neglected to add was requiring hourly phone calls from Arnie Whitman and Ron Silva if they decided to stay out after curfew on school nights.

I won't take all the blame. CMS apparently became intent on sharing the tough-guy light with Kohl, anyway. In November, the agency pre-empted Kohl's call for releasing names on a poor-performing nursing home list by publicizing it before he could. Then, they shared the podium with him in February to announce a full list would be posted, just two days before his new bill calling for the same disclosure was unveiled.

Not to be overlooked in all of this is that, by categorizing the entrants (“Improving,” “Not improved,” etc.) CMS, Kohl and Grassley have boxed in providers on the issue of publicizing the full list of poor providers.

While the fate of the new bill may remain up in the air for some time, the implication is clear: Ever the gentleman, Kohl is nobody's lapdog.
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