Gary Tetz

Like sitting in a tub of hot cocoa on the shore of an enchanted mountain lake while listening to a choir of violin-wielding angels. That’s about how it felt to spend some quality time last week at the LeadingAge conference in Denver.

What a breath of fresh, albeit thin, air. What soothing relief for sore ears and all my other election-assaulted senses. To walk among thousands of long-term care providers on the day of the final presidential debate and hear little more than even-tempered conviction, reasoned analysis and reality-based solutions was a gift. Like an ice cube between the lips at mile 26 of the Death Valley Marathon.

Maybe I was always at the wrong place at the wrong time, or somehow missed the room change for the “Harnessing Hostility — How to Infect Your LTC Workplace with Personal Political Anger” session. But I went the whole day without hearing anything bitter or remotely incendiary. I overheard no testy Red vs. Blue exchanges at the Food Showdown on the Expo floor, no “Woe is us, our nation and profession are doomed if Robamney is elected” pity-partying at the hotel bar.

Call me naïve or inobservant, but it seemed to be just a bunch of good people trying to figure out how to do things better — and survive. One of the member tweets read from the General Session podium appreciated “the infusion of inspiration and motivation.” Not exactly the sort of inflammatory post that’s going to get your hash tag crawling across the Fox News or MSNBC ticker. 

Admittedly, at this point in this election season, I’m an easy target for anyone who makes sense, respects the facts and says things calmly, and we got a heaping dose of that from featured speaker/rock star Dr. Atul Gawande. He’s a practicing surgeon and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who has made waves in his own profession by championing checklists in the surgical suite and suggesting the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain as a possible model for the future of medicine.

Besides exhorting long-term care providers “to not let doctors and hospitals define where the money goes and how to improve,” he optimistically framed the crisis of exploding healthcare costs. “The most expensive care is not the best care,” he said. “This means there is hope.” And as I listened, I pondered how thoughtful, intelligent people like Atul Gawande are actually trying to solve problems, rather than just recklessly posturing for political or personal gain. I think this means there is hope.

Later, that constructive, ever-positive tone continued in a press briefing with LeadingAge president and CEO Larry Minnix. What he delivered wasn’t a breathless, table-pounding sales pitch for either Romney or the president, but simply the organization’s dispassionate judgment of which choice would be the best for seniors and providers.

“The election is what it is,” Minnix said, which might just be the best nugget of political commentary I’ve heard yet. Like the whole conference, it was welcome and refreshing — like an Altoid after a spoonful of anchovies. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, who cobbles these pieces together from his secret lair somewhere near the scenic, wine-soaked hamlet of Walla Walla, WA. Since his debut with at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.