Long-term care operators are rightfully concerned about the never-ending onslaught of new rules and regulations. From an operator’s perspective, most if not all tend to do two bad things: add more red tape and reduce profits.

And it’s not like this field is a stranger to micromanagement. By some estimates, only the nuclear power industry must cope with more oversight. Is it any wonder that regulators tend to be about as popular as pets that just peed on the carpet? “Bad regulator! Bad, bad regulator!”

So it’s hardly surprising the industry was positively giddy in 1981, when the Reagan White House unveiled a proposal to deregulate nursing homes. The plan ultimately fell through. But in retrospect, that “failure” may have been a blessing in disguise.

For if there is one thing that this week’s deadly nursing home fire in China illustrates, the only thing worse than excessive regulation may be regulation that falls short.

Chinese media outlets are reporting that a preliminary investigation into a fire that killed 38 shows that poor building construction and lax safety checks appear to have been the primary culprits.

The Kangleyuan Rest Home in central Henan province was built with steel sheets stuffed with flammable materials, according to the Xinhua News Agency. The State Administration of Work Safety also found poorly designed fire exits and insufficient emergency response and electrical systems.

Well that’s China and not the good old US of A, right? Indeed.

But it’s worth noting that it wasn’t so long ago — 2003 to be exact — that a fire in a Connecticut facility killed 16 people. That same year, a separate blaze killed 15 more at a nursing home in Nashville. At the time, there weren’t the sweeping sprinkler mandates we now have for nursing homes. Had it not been for those deadly fires, we still might not have them. Even in the aftermath of those two deadly blazes, the skilled care sector fought aggressively against sprinkler legislation.

This brings us to why the industry’s complaints about excessive oversight so often fail to resonate.

It’s perfectly normal to be outraged about ridiculous new rules. It’s quite another to fight changes that are long overdue.

When industry officials blast a new proposal, they may believe they are raising legitimate concerns. But to many outsiders, it often sounds otherwise. 

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.