By any account, it is a tough time to find optimism in long-term care. The hours are long, the regulations are immense, the pay is low …

Wait a minute. Those well-worn lines have been used many time before. And incorrectly, if you want to believe one of the foremost visionaries in long-term care today.

Something funny happened at the Vision Centre Symposium Thursday in Chicago. Top senior care and living leaders and officials from institutions of higher learning conducted their annual confab to polish the Vision Centre’s action plan. If you’ve been paying attention these past five years, you know their aim is to inspire more college and university educational tracks, create thousands of on-the-job student experiences and generally invest more in the leadership of the future.

But the symposium also brought attendees an inspired closing 30 minutes from Robert G. Kramer. He inflated his already luminary reputation with a stalking, breathless speech about the great potential of the Vision Centre — and by extension the senior care field itself. It exhilarated even industry veterans exposed previously to many exhortations by the oracle of Annapolis.

Long-term, post-acute, palliative and other types of non-acute care providers are “the future” of healthcare, he emphasized repeatedly. Those are the services increasingly being sought. Meanwhile, acute-care hospitals and physicians are “shrinking” and losing their positions of power as healthcare distribution kings, explained Kramer, an NIC co-founder and current strategic advisor.

“Our motto should be, ‘Leave the past behind. Embrace the future. We are the future,’” he said.

Now also popularly known as the founder of and a fellow at Nexus Insights, Kramer said the Vision Centre’s first goal should be about raising the field’s profile. Currently, it is “too small, too non-existent, too defensive and too negative.” Its second should be better connecting the players, such as providers, students and schools. Finally, the profession should help provide resources, as in more money and teachers.

No time for shrinking violets

The industry is too “reactive and passive,” he criticized. Instead, operators should focus on being the three p’s: preventative, predictive (with “massive” amounts of data); and participatory (consumers are taking more control of their care). 

Stakeholders should ask themselves “What’s my ‘why’?” added Kramer, who was the inaugural McKnight’s Pinnacle Awards Career Achievement Award winner in March.

He chided long-term and senior care providers who don’t take full pride in their profession.

“We are conditioned to being apologetic and defensive, and sometimes we are our own worst enemy when it comes to recruiting,” he said, pacing excitedly in front of the speaker’s podium. “Our opportunities are enormous. Let’s not be defensive or negative. There is unbelievable opportunity, and that’s exciting. We won’t end up in a good place if we’re defensive.”

Robert Kramer energizing a crowd earlier this year while accepting the Career Achievement Award at the McKnight’s Pinnacle Awards.

He marveled at the way the typically cavalier American Hospital Association recently joined with the American Health Care Association to lobby the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for stronger payments for SNFs.

“They’re an endangered sector,” Kramer roared about the acute-care partners. “Their days are numbered so they’re being defensive.”

The approach for the Vision Centre, Kramer said — and therefore all long-term care providers, I say —  should be: “Our vision is big, bold and positive. We’re saying. ‘Join us, be a part of the future.’”

Partnerships should be touted, he stressed. He listed Rutgers and George Fox universities as examples of programs with notable success lately. The latter’s representative told me how her school’s administration became very interested in building healthcare administration courses once it saw that long-term care businesses showed up to support such an effort with paid work and other resources.

As for investing more in leadership-building, Kramer urged operators to recruit their 25-and-under employees already on the payroll to better entice job candidates. Who the messenger is sometimes is just as important as what the message is, he pointed out.

Getting resources also means finding more good teaching faculty.

“There’s a huge wave of executives who are retiring after leading their organizations through the pandemic, or they plan to shortly,” Kramer noted. “There’s a ton of experience there. If we let these folks go off and don’t make use of them … shame on us.

“Let’s stop saying ‘shucks, we wish we weren’t that way,’” he reiterated. “That’s a defeatist attitude.” 

Clearly, he’s in it for the “win” — and wins that the sector and the Vision Centre can be racking up for decades to come. His notions Thursday both took one’s breath away and injected new breath into the field all at the same time.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Executive Editor.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.