John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Among the police, it’s known as the blue wall of silence. This unwritten rule regularly comes into play when a fellow officer’s errors, poor behavior or possible crimes are under scrutiny. Its basic message: Keep your mouth shut.

But opting to be selectively quiet is hardly limited to those who wear the badge. If we’re going to be truthful, the senior living field has pretty much had its own blue wall of silence since, well, forever.

Any regular reader of my blog knows how I feel about this matter. I greatly admire and respect the hard work that hundreds of thousands of providers perform in this field day after day. I don’t think there’s any question that most people have their hearts and minds in the right place. But as is the case with any human endeavor, there are always the few rascals who make everyone look bad. For them, I have little mercy. The sooner they find work elsewhere, the better.

For years, I have railed for providers and associations to better police and call out these misfits. And up until now that request has felt like asking a cop to testify against his partner. Not that I’m surprised. Better to leave bad enough alone, apparently.

But my faith in the goodness of this field’s leaders was renewed recently, when a state executive had the guts to call out an operator’s allegedly poor practices.

Gail Matillo, who is CEO of the Florida chapter of the Assisted Living Federation of America, has apparently had enough.

“Recently, we have seen news reports of deplorable and possibly criminal activity by operators who were entrusted to provide care for Florida’s elders; specifically, cases in which a deceased woman’s credit card was used by the owners of the home and another case where residents were restrained to their beds. While these communities were not Florida ALFA members, we find the operators completely unacceptable and feel we must speak out to encourage the state to hold them fully accountable,” Matillo noted.

But wait, there’s more. Matillo added that “bad actors must be held accountable in order to preserve and protect the dignity and well-being of the seniors in their care.”

To my knowledge, that is an unprecedented statement by an industry official. (If I’m wrong, please let me know who else deserves some credit.)

Look, I get it. Nobody really wants to be the bad guy (or gal). And in the case of an association, there is more than warm feelings with a colleague that may be lost. Dues don’t pay themselves.

But it really is high time that slimy operators felt some real peer pressure. Especially when they do things that are flat-out wrong.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Matillo to take that stand. My guess is that she probably caught some serious grief from some quarters afterward.

But those are the kinds of actions that separate true leaders from those who just happen to be in leadership positions.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.