Gary Tetz

Like a real-crime podcast about murder. That’s the way we need to tell the story of our long-term care staffing or funding woes if we want anyone to actually pay attention. 

I say this after spending a weekend obsessed with the podcast likes of “Dirty John,” “Over My Dead Body” and “Serial.” These are gripping, multi-episode, cliff-hanging tales of darkness, deceit and a host of other horrible things. Oh, and also murder.  (Incidentally, the CMS podcast is great, but doesn’t quite reach these dramatic heights.) 

As a long-time video producer, I’ve always been partial to the visual, believing arresting images are the essential element of persuasion. Podcasts are turning all that on its head. Who would sit and listen to hours and hours of a single story spooling out over many weeks with nothing but voices, sound effects and dramatic music stabs? Millions, that’s who, including me. 

And when done right, with appropriate dramatic touches, the stories stick — it’s not in one ear and out the other. Around my office water cooler, we can endlessly debate the nuances of whether Adnan was really guilty, why Charlie isn’t in prison and why Debra couldn’t see the red flags. We don’t, of course, because we’re hyper-dedicated employees with a keen sense of morality who are thinking only about PDPM. But we want to. 

None of this should be a surprise. We all know a compelling narrative is critical to the messaging of any cause, and that national elections are mostly lost for the lack of one. That’s why politicians are always talking about the young mother they just met in Peoria, and telling her ultra-convenient story. They know no matter how contrived it might seem, it’s all people will really listen to. 

That’s also why congressional hearings on senior care always seem to trot out a slate of victims with gripping, terrible tales to tell, and why the well-qualified and articulate respondents representing this profession are often left hopelessly trying to engage an indifferent audience. It’s not their fault. Once the story is over, who’s interested or paying attention to the broader context? 

Whether on a national crusade to move the needle on issues of funding and staff, or in positioning your facility within its competitors, when in doubt, revert to story. Everything has one. Obviously, the negative will never have the allure of the positive, and the audience for a story about the caregiver who did the wonderful, selfless thing and everyone was safe and happy will never achieve the rabidly rapt listeners of its opposite. 

Still, it’s a time-honored human tradition honed since even before “Beowulf.” So before you get to your case-closing, data-laden bullet points, gather the children around and tell them a story. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.