No easy chair for AHCA's Bob Van Dyk

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[Photo: Bob Van Dyk]

Reflecting on the recently concluded American Health Care Association annual meeting, it seems there were almost too many star players for one conference.

While the hubbub centered on a beloved CEO getting ready for retirement and his successor (a sitting state governor), another deserving figure was almost relegated to being just the emcee. By introducing speakers and directing traffic during a precision opening general session, some might have confused AHCA Board Chair Bob Van Dyk as just another impeccably dressed, finely coiffed member of the cast. He, however, has been one of the most important cogs to the machine that is AHCA over the past year, and he has plenty to say.

Van Dyk was thrown into the fire early after assuming the chairmanship last year. When CEO and President Bruce Yarwood was put out of commission for several months by a medical crisis, it was he, AHCA Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Shimer, VP of Policy & Government Relations David Hebert and others who kept the association on course. Unlike other chairs before him, Van Dyk actually moved to Washington to help with day-to-day operations. He saw firsthand things like the healthcare reform debate.

And now, heading into the final year of his term, with a seamless CEO transition ready to take place, he says he's determined to make things happen.

“Being so involved in the reform debate, it opened my eyes to Washington, D.C.,” the New Jersey native told me. “I was very disappointed with what I saw. I just felt like we got no respect.”

His background, which includes running acute-care hospitals as well as long-term care facilities, gives him a perspective unlike most others'.

“I truly, truly believe we are the most efficient and effective providers in the continuum. Nobody seems to see us for that,” he laments.

His biggest irritation is that Washington doesn't seem to give credit to what's happening in the senior care market.

“We're not perfect, but we're paid $400 per day for what a hospital is doing the day before for $3,400,” he says. “How does that make sense? Why is it no one's talking to us, and we're not a bigger player in the overall scheme of things?”

Van Dyk says he plans to use his last year as chair to work hard on improving AHCA and the profession's image.

“We have a great story to tell,” he says, sounding a lot like a fellow leader at the American Association of Homes & Services for the Aging, President and CEO Larry Minnix. “We need to better articulate that message.”

To that end, Van Dyk has vowed to work with AAHSA, the American Seniors Housing Association, and physician, nurse and nurse-aide associations. But he wants even more. The profession also needs to work with corporate America, he says.

Corporate America should like the idea because it's currently losing billions of dollars in lost productivity, as grown children take time off, or simply lose job focus, while taking care of ailing parents.

“This is what we do—take care of ailing parents,” Van Dyk notes, the irritation rising in his voice.

Don't get him started on the way other providers receive the bulk of grant money to develop electronic records, or how such a large percentage of residents today now is successfully discharged home within a few weeks or months. Just more ways long-term care providers are being “forgotten,” he figures.

“It upset me so much to see hospitals, insurance companies, drug companies all get their private deals cut before the Senate and House even got a chance to do what they wanted,” he said, turning back to healthcare reform. “It's like somehow we don't count, but it's a big mistake and I'm tired of it.”

There will be no more waiting in the wings.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.

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