Daily Editors' Notes

Nursing homes' steep climb to public trust

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Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
I'll let you in on a secret: Most of the time, the long-term care business press is, if not always on your side, at least sympathetic to your plight.

We've seen the amazing work you do in many of the facilities, usually with limited budgets. We celebrate your accomplishments in programs such as McKnight's Technology Awards. We understand, better than the average newspaper reporter assigned a beat along the lines of Healthcare/Environment/Pets/Technology, the policy and financial challenges you face. We know of the unspoken challenges that families place on you, and how little America accepts the idea of growing old gracefully. And we know that they don't commit to financial planning around long-term care.

But long-term care publications write for long-term care employees, not the public. So I wouldn't be doing my duty as a journalist if I didn't explain to you why the masses largely don't like you. (By you, of course, I mean the industry-at-large. I'm truly sure that you, the person reading this, are wonderful. And what a great outfit you are wearing today!)

Let's put aside what I've read about legal cases and local accounts from around the country, alleging neglect or abuse of a nursing home resident. And what I hope is an isolated case of a long-term care employee in California unfortunately deciding that certain wild mushrooms would add a nice kick to the soup

Those arguably can be countered, if not negated, by wonderful community stories of pets in nursing homes, holiday celebrations, photos of grade-school children visiting your facility, and more.

There is, however, no number of feel-good stories — in the trade press or otherwise — that can erase the damning New York Times story that ran this weekend about a Queens nursing home that wasn't prepared for Hurricane Sandy, and whose leaders seemed to have left the facility before the storm hit.

To be fair, it's entirely possible that state and storm officials gave the owners bad information, and the facility did evacuate residents. But the key is to notice how Promenade has nursing homes on either side of it, and neither of those has made it into the NYT — except for a comment about how the Promenade owner came over to demand batteries and flashlights. 

Also of note: Promenade seems to have misplaced some residents in various locales around New York, not all of them still known.

It is of course, unfair for anyone to extrapolate a picture of an entire industry based on a few unprepared apples. I believe industry experts who say that long-term care professionals are leaps and bounds better in emergency planning since Hurricane Katrina. 

Just about anyone in any profession faces the occasional sneer from the stranger about the industry he or she has chosen. The difference is that John and Susie Public hold you to a higher standard. You are responsible for what society considers its most vulnerable members.

So when someone screws up, fair or not, it means you just have to work that much harder to regain the public trust. It may reek to you of hypocrisy, but in the end, it is just reality.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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