James M. Berklan

It was not a good sign from the start. The “personal” email stiffly started “Dear Sir,” The first line only validated my gnawing feeling: “I can’t tell you how enraged I got reading your article …” It was the start of a new friendship.

Yes, I was very intrigued by the opening of that email last week, which arrived the day my last blog was published. In a nutshell, the column was a go-get-’em to nursing home marketing professionals.

A Brown University study had shown that hospital discharge planners were perceived to be doing a weak job of preparing patients for post-acute care. Voila! An opening for SNF marketers, I wrote.

Essentially, I recommended doubling down on community awareness and outreach efforts, along with some other modified chestnuts. And then I added the line that so alarmed my new penpal.

“No doubt those overworked brothers and sisters in healthcare [the hospital discharge planners] have some guidelines to abide by,” I wrote, “but everyone has favorites and it’s only human nature to funnel outgoing patients there, right?”

“The laws are there so that it is an even playing field,” my emailer sputtered. He went on to relate a devastating sequence of events that put his 5-star facility behind a financial 8-ball for a painful period that included staff reductions.

(My emailer asked not to have his name, facility or location identified due to the sensitive nature of the story.)

“We had always invited discharge planners to our special events, but they finally said they couldn’t with the new regulations and that they could NOT give special consideration to certain facilities, so we stopped,” he wrote.

It turns out, though, competitors didn’t stop vying to get an inside track.

In brief, his facility partly suffered because of skullduggery caused by certain clinicians steering potential residents toward their own self-interests. It got as bad as their telling discharge planners and potential residents outright lies, such as that my friend’s facility was full and didn’t have room for anyone else.

The facility’s administrator approached hospital discharge planners about the funneling of virtually all post-acute patients away from his SNF. The hospital stonewalled, denying the easily verifiable assertion.

“Finally, we just hired an attorney,” my new friend recalled. “That attorney did a great job and got to really investigate all the allegations. After about six months, he sent all his research to [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and the [Office of Inspector General] and then something miraculous started to happen. We got a reply from the government that they were investigating the allegations.”

Armed with that information, the administrator approached the hospital once more and “all of a sudden” Medicare referrals started flowing again.

“When you lose income, it affects everybody and we had cutbacks,” my correspondent recalled. “I’m so glad that this is over but it is a reminder to me what damage can happen when the playing field is not fair.  Discharge planners are NOT to persuade or encourage any patient in what facility to go to.”

He added that he only had wanted to vent and didn’t need a reply to his email. No chance. I was compelled by such grace and class to respond.

New friends, like level playing fields, are always desirable.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan. Email him at [email protected].