John O'Connor

Ever hear the one about what nursing homes have in common with lawyers and policemen? All three are awful – until you need them.

I can’t address the relative merits of barristers or agents of social control. But, boy, does that sentiment ring true when it comes to senior care.

Consider: My Friday blog addressed the fact that one of the field’s true giants passed away with virtually no fanfare. The first response on our website essentially said good riddance, as his firm failed to “provide good care to the residents of his nursing homes.”

Earlier last week, my colleague Jim Berklan wrote that the public’s favorable rating of nursing home administrators hit a record high. According to the Gallup survey, the number of respondents rating nursing home operators’ honesty and ethics standards as “very high” or “high” hit a new peak at 32%. Guess that begs the question of whether the glass is one-third full or two-thirds empty.

All things considered, perhaps the industry’s image problem shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, there are many aspects of senior care that tend to be, shall we say, less than pleasant. And if we are going to be brutally honest, the business practices of some of the field’s operators at times have hardly helped.

That being noted, the torch-and-pitchfork crowd often overlooks two essential truths.

The first is that nursing homes exist for very good reasons. Simply put, they take care of mostly frail, mostly older people at a time when other options won’t do.

The second is that they often do their job better than many so-called preferred choices. Last week, we reported on a study that found dual eligibles who move from a long-term care facility to home- and community-based services increase their risk for a potentially preventable hospital stay by 40%.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the HCBS model. Yet few critics are lining up to blast the new darling of long-term care. But can you imagine the uproar that would have ensued had the opposite been demonstrated?

Am I trying to suggest that nursing homes are all wonderful places and that criticism against them must stop? Hardly. But instead of treating the field like it’s wearing a “kick me” sign, maybe it’s time to give some credit where it’s due.

In my experience, most communities are run by honest, hard working people trying to help others enjoy a better life. On the best days, the work can be physically, mentally and spiritually draining.

And it really is high time to challenge the notion that innuendo and cheap shots at the industry’s expense are perfectly acceptable.


John O’Connor is Editorial Director at McKnight’s.