Gary Tetz

With the president of AHCA predicting a difficult 2023, it confirmed just how tough a slog the road back from the darkest days of the pandemic will likely continue to be for long-term care. But if we’re seeking an inspiring metaphor for the Herculean task of rebuilding the profession after a global cataclysm, I have one to offer — the Notre-Dame Cathedral

When fire tore through the famous 12th century church in April of 2019, it was one of the most discouraging things I’d ever seen. Watching the flames destroy the roof and topple that iconic spire seemed like a metaphor for what was happening to the planet, this country and its most treasured institutions. If that monument to human aspiration, art, music, religion and culture could burn, what hope was there for anything else we humans hold dear? 

With the ruins still smoking, the French president dutifully pledged it would be restored, and I remember thinking, “Yeah, sure.” But now here we are in 2022, and despite the pandemic, the dangers of working on the site and the exorbitant expense, progress continues and the Cathedral appears on track to reopen in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024

So if such a rise from the ashes is possible at Notre-Dame, maybe this profession can rise from the aftereffects of COVID-19 as well. As I read about and looked at pictures of the restoration,* I see a few similarities and lessons. For one thing, on-site cathedral workers are swaddled in layers of heavy-grade PPE, so that’s certainly something with which we in long-term care can identify.  

In another parallel, much of the most important work of restoration is happening quietly, almost anonymously, behind the scenes, by scores of skilled craftsmen — much like our incredible facility staff who continue to quietly and humbly move us forward despite the horror of what they’ve endured through the pandemic.

In terms of resources, it appears the Notre-Dame project is largely funded by gifts from private donors and large corporations. We could learn from this, since we seem to be having such trouble convincing lawmakers to fund initiatives that would help solve the staffing crisis.  We could offer naming rights for each donation that supports workforce development and culture, such as the “Disney Breakroom” or the “Aflac Smoking Patio.” 

The metaphor breaks down in one major area though, as the renovators have made choices we should not choose to emulate. At Notre-Dame, whenever possible they seem to be trying to make things exactly the way they were — replacing the burned up old oak rafters with new oak rafters that appear equally flammable, for instance. Or using new lead in the roof, despite the fact that the old lead roof melted and polluted Paris with toxic fumes. Choosing historical authenticity over speed and efficiency, they’re also apparently using a lot of medieval hand tools. 

But as we continue our own rebuilding process, we should resist giving in to an obsession with the past, and instead use this opportunity to innovate for the future. Nothing will ever be the way it was before COVID ravaged our care cathedral. So we should relentlessly seek out and embrace innovative technology, new models of care and ways to future-proof the profession from whatever challenges inevitably await.  

As for all those medieval hand tools we used to use back in the good old days before EHR, let’s avoid the Notre-Dame example entirely and leave them in the facility basement where they belong. 

*For an eye-popping photographic journey through the Notre-Dame restoration, I highly recommend the National Geographic feature, though it requires a subscription.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the APEX Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.