Liza Berger headshot
Liza Berger

This week, the History Channel ran a three-part series on General Ulysses S. Grant.

I became a fan of Grant recently after reading the autobiography “Grant” by Ron Chernow, author of other massive tomes on other major historical figures, such as Alexander Hamilton, on which the famous musical is based.  

It’s hard not to admire and perhaps relate, in part, to a man who rose from obscurity and struggled to become the general who led the Union army to victory during the Civil War and later became one of our presidents. During the Civil War, he became a close friend and confidante of another larger-than-life person, Abraham Lincoln.

Life wasn’t easy for Grant, who fought alcoholism and people who constantly undervalued him, and failed at many endeavors before he discovered his true calling: battle. He wasn’t just a good general, he was one of our finest. Arguably a military genius, he could see the goals and challenges that lay before him and never gave up.  

Grant is one of our country’s heroes. In true American fashion, he lifted himself up to become a towering presence. Like all great leaders, he didn’t want to be one; the burden was thrust on him. And while he wasn’t perfect by any stretch and constantly fought his inner demons, he led with conviction, a strong moral code of conduct and sense of who he was.

When it comes to leadership, it’s possible to draw some parallels to today with an enemy — COVID-19 — and a certain battlefront — long-term care. During this bruising fight, long-term care has two people at the helm who have lent their strong voices and beliefs to the cause: Mark Parkinson of the American Health Care Association and Katie Smith Sloan of LeadingAge.

They have different, but clear, messages. Parkinson, who has appeared on many national news programs, early on issued a clarion call for the need for funding and resources from the federal government. He has made his case in plain terms. “We feel like we’ve been forgotten,” he said back in April, when help was nowhere to be found for personal protective equipment and testing.

Smith Sloan, meanwhile, is not bashful about her feelings regarding the federal response to nursing homes. This week, she gave one of her now characteristic responses to a comment from the president about providing adequate personal protective equipment: “Americans need their government to focus on doing what it takes to protect the older American and their caregivers who face the greatest risk from the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of offering support and resources. Today the President offered only words.”

You may not like what she says or how she says it, but you have to admire her tenacity, courage and steadfastness. 

So how successful are these nursing home generals? Just last week, their troops received $4.9 billion in funding to fight the coronavirus.

Is it enough? No way. But with their words and through their leadership, they are winning small battles that eventually, hopefully, will help turn the tide.

They are proving themselves, day in and day out, during this national emergency. And for that, their troops — the nurses and other staff in long-term care — should be proud and grateful.  

Liza Berger is Senior Editor at McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.