When I hear about innovation in long-term care, I sometimes have to stifle a chuckle.

Respectfully, most of the real change we’ve seen in recent decades has been around the edges — and at best, incremental. It has also been driven far more by necessity than inspiration.

Arguably, the biggest shift this sector has made in the past generation is to reduce its dependence on Medicaid — only because Medicare pays better. That’s not really innovating. That’s simply making an adjustment.

Perhaps just as disheartening is what hasn’t changed much: a seemingly never-ending quarrel between operators and regulators about appropriate rules and their enforcement.

What the sector could really use is the emergence of an operator along the lines of the late Steve Jobs. He helped launch and then ran Apple Computer. His firm’s revolutionary products include the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?

Jobs repeatedly said that his top priority was to make “insanely great” products. By most accounts, he was hugely successful.

Which is more than we can say for most long-term care firms. How many providers would customers call “insanely great” these days?

That’s an unfair comparison, some might counter. Long-term care operators hardly have the means or time to focus on such a lofty goal, given how tenuous mere survival tends to be.

But two recent developments might help spur innovation as never before. One is the destruction wrought by COVID-19. Or to be more accurate, how the pandemic will likely force operators to change the way they do business going forward.

The other is a gradually growing awareness that many more people of limited means will soon be requiring less expensive long-term care.

Given these catalysts, we might soon see the emergence of operators with the insight, vision and guts to really shake things up.

I’d say that development can’t come soon enough. Haven’t we spent enough time in what amounts to the flip-phone era?

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s.