A question of word choice: 'long-term care' versus 'long-term services and supports'

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A new phrase appears to be emerging in the lexicon of long-term care. That phrase is "long-term services and supports." (Notice the omission of the word “care.”)

The language has received widespread attention as a result of the healthcare reform provision known as the CLASS (Community Living Assistance Services and Supports) Act, which addresses some of the overlapping needs of the long-term care and disability communities. Advocates for the disabled are directly responsible for two key terms in the word CLASS: "services" and "supports."

“In the disability community, long-term care is synonymous with nursing homes,” explained Lauren Shaham, director of media relations with the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. “What they have been arguing is disabled people need supports to facilitate independence.”

The phrase now seems to be resonating with AAHSA and other advocacy groups. It certainly fits with the mission of AAHSA, which serves home- and community based care organizations, as well as nursing homes.

Aging people “still want the same kind of independence and choice that has been the mantra in the disability community for years,” Shaham noted.

The National Council on Aging also has taken to the term because it connotes a broader range of services for older adults.

“We don't just mean care,” said Jim Firman, president and chief executive of the council. “We mean services and supports.”

NCO is so serious about using the phrase that “long-term care” is now taboo there. Offenders have to pay a quarter when they use it as an incentive to break themselves of the habit, Firman said. 

The new terminology is important to unite the long-term care and disability communities, he believes. Firman remembers a few years ago when there would be three different bills from three different groups: seniors, long-term care and the disability communities.

“None of the groups realized they were talking about the same thing,” Firman said. “Language does matter in terms of uniting the consumer constituency around these issues.”

The terminology arguably reflects a new way to think about getting older and the living options that are available. To the extent it makes people think more positively about the spectrum of aging services, I, for one, hope the phrase sticks.  


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.