John O’Connor

It’s one thing to know a tsunami might occur. It’s quite another to see a 100-foot surge coming your way.

For long-term care operators, the approaching wave happens to be regulatory rather than aquatic. But make no mistake, it’s very real.

Some have accused me of taking sides, ever since I began predicting last year that a Biden administration would mean more accountability and oversight for this sector.

But truth be told, I was never advocating for one party or the other. I was merely pointing out the inevitable result of having Democrats in control. Now that they have the White House and hold majorities in both the House and Senate, can there be any doubt about which side will be dictating the legislative and regulatory agenda for the next two years?

Look, I realize no person can say with a straight face that 2020 was a fun year for this field. Thanks to a worldwide pandemic, operators have seen both revenues and occupancy bottom out. And that’s not even addressing the far more distressing human toll. By some estimates, this sector has accounted for 40% of all deaths attributable to COVID-19. The carnage is everywhere.

But believe it or not, things could have been worse.

The Trump administration began with a promise of reduced red tape. And whether you love or hate our outgoing chief executive, he did deliver. The last four years also saw rules and penalties against this sector greatly relaxed.

But that is all about to change.

As my colleague Danielle Brown reported last Wednesday, providers are now being warned to prepare for a big push to reform and upgrade skilled care services. That includes much stiffer penalties for noncompliance.

Among the likely new mandates will be additional staff training. Arbitration agreements could be banned and pandemic-related standard relaxations may very well end. None of this comes as welcome news. Nor should it be surprising.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

We just saw some truly frightening events play out in Washington. What’s ahead for this field may not be much to feel good about, either.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s