John O'Connor

This publication and this sector were facing some very troubled times in 1990. That’s when I joined McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

The experts have a technical term for where the field and the magazine were at that time: barely alive.

McKnight’s had the unenviable distinction of being the least profitable publication in a four-magazine company. Some of our more hardened colleagues seemed to view us like visiting relatives who had overstayed our welcome. Adding insult to this injurious reality, we were clearly trailing the front-running magazines in our field. The view then was not exactly what you would call enviable. In fact, during my first few years at McKnight’s, our publication’s continued survival was the subject of frequent and sometimes heated discussion. My, how times have changed.

At the time, many long-term care facilities found themselves in a similarly precarious situation. A federal nursing home reform law passed in 1987 was then being gradually phased in. The result was unprecedented adjustment pains at many facilities. Quite a few operators were seriously considering new lines of work. But both we and (most of) our readers opted to stay put and keep hammering away.

Most of the facilities that were barely clinging on have since turned the corner. While senior living is a challenging endeavor on the best of days, the sector is in pretty decent shape. Or at least, in much better shape than it was back then.

Our fortunes at McKnight’s began to improve about a half decade after I signed on, and we’ve basically been on a nice trajectory ever since.

I was reminded of humble roots and a remarkable recovery when I recently came across an extremely positive report about the sector’s future. If it’s to be believed, we’re all in for some fairly decent expansion.

According to US Elder Care Services Market, the senior living sector will grow at a robust 5.2% rate through 2016. By then, the combined market for skilled care, assisted living, CCRCs and homecare will exceed $319 billion, according to the study.

The report cites well-known demographic reasons for growth (more baby boomers, who also happen to be living longer). It also points out how the government’s increasing frugality could put a damper on the party.

Will these predictions play out? I have no idea.

But I do know this: Both the sector and McKnight’s have made tremendous strides in the past two decades. In the day-to-day world of new expectations and crushing time demands, it’s easy to overlook or take these accomplishments for granted.

And regardless of how the numbers tally up in 2016, I’m willing to bet that the view then also will be a lot better than it was in our not-so-distant past.