John O’Connor

Considering the current state of long-term care, maybe it’s time more operators began flipping the bird.

No, not flipping the bird that way. Rather, in the way once suggested by a Jesuit priest. Now before things get too convoluted, perhaps some clarity is in order.

The priest in question is the late Anthony de Mello.  He also happened to be a spiritual teacher, public speaker and writer. One of his better known works is a book called “Song of the Bird.” 

It contains a thought-provoking parable that seems pretty relevant to what we are seeing across long-term care these days.

In the story, a man finds an eagle’s egg and puts it in a hen’s nest. The eagle grows up believing he is a chicken, and behaves accordingly. In old age, he sees a majestic bird gliding in the sky, and asks what it is. He is informed that it is an eagle, the king of birds.

“He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth — we’re chickens,” the neighbor explains. The eagle on the ground thinks little more of it, and resumes his chicken-like ways.

Similarly, too many long-term care providers don’t seem to realize how majestic their organizations could be. Instead, they focus almost exclusively on avoiding insolvency and the penalty box.  

These operators are essentially scratching for what amounts to worms in the barnyard. For in their strict obedience to familiar habits, they are sacrificing something far greater — unrealized potential.

But I suppose that’s one price to be paid for going the way of the chicken. The good news is that change is possible, at any time. But for many in this field, it will require a willingness to flip the bird.

 John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.