John O’Connor

Among other things, COVID-19 has helped confirm what we know about long-term care and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The pandemic has also revealed a few new things about both.

Let’s address skilled care first. The past half year has made it obvious that this is a field full of heroes, especially on the front lines. Thousands of caregivers in this sector have become sick and many have died in service to the frail and elderly. Many thousands more continue to risk the possibility of both each working day.

We’ve also seen that this sector can be pretty inventive when it comes to dealing with equipment and personnel shortages. Some of the MacGyver-ing taking place would make MacGyver proud.

Unfortunately, a few rather unpleasant realities have also been confirmed. Many facilities continue to operate with far too few employees. Some are too lax (or at least were early on in the pandemic) when it comes to infection control, PPE and social distancing. Let’s face it, a good number of the deaths that happened in and around nursing homes could have been – and should have been — prevented.

Now let’s turn our attention to the overseers.

By any standard, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has had its hands full, courtesy of the pandemic. And to give credit where it is due, they have in many ways done an amazing job. I truly believe they have tried to help the sector.

Unfortunately, there also seem to be days when CMS can’t decide whether nursing homes are the good guys or the villains.

We’ve also learned the folks who run CMS (and their bosses at Health and Human Services) are not above injecting some partisan politics into their day jobs. To some degree, that issue is a constant given. But some of the verbiage coming from the top folks at CMS simply doesn’t align with the available evidence. And frankly, kooky statements are not exactly the best way to earn trust.  As an old boss liked to say, don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

So what has the pandemic taught us? Two things come to mind.

One is that there are many people working in nursing homes and in the government who are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. The second lesson?  As far as both the industry and the agency are concerned, there’s still lots of room for improvement.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s