Giving person-centered care the green light

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

I'm one of those people who see the numbers ticking down on a crosswalk signal as a challenge. Five seconds? No problem. Three? Let's just say if you've ever been waiting at a stoplight only to hear a blond-haired pedestrian yell “WE CAN MAKE IT” and run across the street dragging another person by the arm... I was probably the culprit.

But my enthusiasm about crossing the street, understandably, isn't shared by everyone. And research has shown that for many older adults whose walking speed has decreased with age, even the full stoplight length isn't enough for them to safely cross the street. Some countries have considered making traffic light times longer to account for elderly pedestrians; others have a system that allows seniors and those with disabilities to tap a card on a reader next to the crosswalk button, giving them more time to make it.

But other than bloggers bouncing around ideas on how to handle the issue, the United States hasn't done much in the way of making pedestrian crossings more accommodating for seniors. So what are we do to?

This was a question posed last week by Jonathan Evans, M.D., during his “The Future of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care” talk at Pioneer Network's 2015 Conference held in Rosemont, IL. The audience's answer was a resounding call for the stoplight times to be lengthened, but as Evans pointed out, “changing that one thing changes things everywhere.”

Longer stoplight times would mean longer drive times, which could lead to exasperated commuters. Shipping products by truck would take longer, and use more gas, which could cause prices to rise. Emergency vehicles could take longer to reach their destinations if they have to wait for traffic backed up at a long light.

The stoplight conundrum was Evans' way of pointing out how interconnectivity will impact the future of long-term care. According to Evans, there are more over the age of 65 alive today than the total number of people in history who made it to age 65. That booming elder population calls for a change to higher-quality, more person-centered care, an issue he believes will be at the forefront of long-term care in coming years.

“If love and acceptance were prevalent, we wouldn't be talking about culture change,” Evans said. “To be candid, as far as the future's concerned I'm not too worried about getting bad healthcare. What I'm afraid of is not being loved and accepted by the people who care for me.”

But that shift to person-centered care would require more nursing staff and healthcare workers, workers that Evans pointed out the long-term care industry is experiencing a “critical” shortage of. While remedying a worker shortage with technological advancements may be tempting, Evans warned that providers shouldn't expect more from technology than they expect from themselves.

Going forward, the long-term care industry will find itself at a crossroads. A change towards person-centered, quality care is needed, and the steps required to make that change will have a ripple effect on other aspects of the industry.

Evans advised the audience at the Pioneer Network conference to view the future as an opportunity to create a new vision for the industry, a vision for “how we want the world to be.”

In Evans' eyes, that's a world where facilities who advertise with the word “care” actually mean it. It's a place where technology works in tandem with caring and well-trained staff and where a new generation of long-term care workers steps up to improve attitudes towards seniors.

“The problems we face will not be solved by the people who created them,” Evans said.

While those problems create a tough road to cross, I'm confident the future of the long-term care industry will be a bright one. Just look at it as a challenge to beat the light before it turns red.

Emily Mongan is a Staff Writer at McKnight's.

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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.