James M. Berklan

Sometimes you can’t put an appropriate dollar amount on something of value. Love, devotion, valor. All come to mind. The number simply can’t be calculated.

I’d say we’re in one of those positions now regarding the care given in nursing homes during the 14 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, love, devotion, valor all play key roles.

So, how does two-tenths of one penny sound as a reward for all you’ve endured? I say it’s a good start and take it for what it’s worth.

You see, $1,000 is the annual award given each year for the McKnight Prize for Healthcare Outbreak Heroes. (This McKnight, incidentally, is no relation to the McKnight’s publication you are now reading.

The nation’s frontline nursing home staff have been named the collective winner of the 2021 McKnight Award, which is administered under the CDC Foundation. So $1,000 divided by the number of frontline nursing home staff comes out to … well, a LOT less than even two-tenths of a cent. (Good catch, by all you non-journalism-math practitioners!)

But what I did was divide that $1,000 by the 550,000 nursing home workers who have thus far contracted COVID-19, if only as a symbolic gesture. There also have been about 1,000 staff who have died due to the coronavirus.

Would even $1,000 per death, infection or employee ever be the right amount? Of course not.

But it’s not always all about money. (I know, try that one out on your CFO and see how it flies, but you know what I mean.)

In praising LTC’s “heroism,” the McKnight awards team and CDC Foundation have done what others should have done already, including the judges for the 2020 Time Person of the Year Award. The Time arbiters chose a certain newly elected U.S. president and vice president (while limply recognizing healthcare workers in general, along with dozens of others at some lesser level).

Leaving politics totally out of it, we can say this: Neither they, nor any of the other Time candidates ever worked in a setting that was connected to nearly 40% of the deaths from the pandemic. Nursing home workers wear that distinction alone, reporting to work before when testing and, of course, vaccines, hadn’t been developed, and often when personal protective equipment was insufficient. They risked their own well-being and that of their families just to do their job. We won’t start dividing their average wages into anything to remind there’s no grand prize in there, either.

Nursing home workers were not as high on the totem pole as hospital workers for protective equipment, testing or vaccines. And everyone must remember: Just a year ago, there were a mountain of unknowns about how aggressive, dangerous or transmissible this virus was. Hindsight does not negate the courage shown by long-term care workers in the heat of the invisible, frightening battle. As far as they knew, they were laying it on the line every single day.

So, bravo, to the CDC Foundation and the Evelyn and Thomas McKnight Family Fund for Patient Safety, and to the nursing home staff they honor. 

A formal award ceremony will be held by the CDC Forum and presenting partner American Health Care Association at the AHCA/NCAL Annual Convention & Expo in October near Washington, D.C.

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.