Beyond the 403-page elephant in the room

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Civics class was in full session Monday, when long-term care providers received a summer reading assignment that should keep them busy — and anxiety-ridden — for many days to come.

But, hey, at least they know the president of the United States is now paying attention.

Ten years ago, the then-president didn't show up at the White House Conference on Aging, yet alone speak at it. Or drop a 403-page heap of long-term care regulatory changes on anyone. That bouncing baby was the reason so many usually glib analysts were a smiley non-committal on Monday and squirreled away reading on Tuesday.

Oh well, it's not like we couldn't wait a few more days to read Harper Lee's first “new” book in 55 years, which was officially released Tuesday.

A few things are certain: Long-term care providers are going to have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the new regulatory language, and the meaning of it all won't be clear for a good while. Some very early, very sketchy reviews claim that conscientious providers are already practicing much of what is being prescribed. The new rules just mandate it for all. We'll see.

One way or another, it is a lot more than I was expecting out of this White House Conference on Aging. With the abbreviated schedule and relatively short time to prepare for it, I admittedly joined the legions that confidently said (or were at least thinking), “Here comes another boondoggle that's going to be passed off as something gaseously important.”

What was missed, however, was not just potential changes in content, but also format. Instead of calling the delegates to Washington to roll up sleeves, earnestly talk over one another for a few days and then go home to await for a report to be sent to them, organizers brought the conference into the modern era. Rather than emulating the Continental Congress meetings of the late 1700s, they went on the road and held more than 600 listening sessions and satellite preparatory meetings of substance, sometimes with very names from the administration taking part.

Of course, the biggest name, Obama, took the stage Monday, announcing what he called some of the biggest changes in 25 years. There's federal attention for you.

This conference also took on a more upbeat tone in many ways. Rather than taking the traditional long view at “poverty programs for the sick, poor and those alone” (as one wonk put it), this gathering seemed to focus more on current and future possibilities. We all are aging, after all.

This is what got banking, transportation and other execs involved. Just call it another way the baby boomers are impacting policy talk, if that's your pleasure. The description fits.

“It was the idea that all of us will live much longer, and with some needs, and beginning to see that in a positive way,” offered Bruce Chernof, CEO of The SCAN Foundation and chairman of Congress' 2013 Long-Term Care Commission. His foundation is investing $2 million to assist community-based aging networks develop the skills and capacity necessary to build collaborative partnerships with the healthcare sector.

This conference notably looked more at community-based supports and opportunities. This is good because the most recent survey results from The SCAN Foundation revealed that two-thirds of Americans still are not saving money for their potential future long-term care needs. Also, more than half of Americans either didn't know what pays for long-term care or guessed wrong, the survey also found.

This WHCOA was good for catching the eye of both caregivers and the public — while also being hopeful and somewhat cheery. That's progress.

It also got real about modern technology and, again it should be emphasized, generally took the White House Conference on Aging out of the White House, and outside of the Washington Beltway. It took the program to the people — looking to engage in ways they prefer to communicate. This meant, yes, Facebook, Twitter and other “real time” methods of communication.

One can only hope that 10 years from now when the next WHCOA is held, there will be even more direct give and take between the government, and people and providers. 

By then, someone also might be done fully digesting Monday's 403 pages of regulatory ruminations.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.


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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.