Jim Berklan

I know many people who have tried to win the Mega Millions or Powerball lottery games lately. You probably do too. In fact, the guy who wrote those lines is one of them.

My position has always been that the occasional $2 spent guessing at a group of numbers that could bring a mind-blowing windfall is worth the expense, winning ticket or not. Those 200 pennies bring a lot in entertainment value simply by fantasizing with the “What if I win?” game.

I’m right about that and I’m also right when I say the story of a certain Connecticut long-term care provider that “won” more than $4 million but didn’t collect it is a crying shame.

It isn’t about a gambling victory, however. In fact, the provider hadn’t “won” anything. It had earned every penny of the $4-plus million it’s going to go without.

In a cautionary tale for every provider management team — The Nathaniel Witherell is not collecting because it didn’t have the personnel to do so. Plain and simple.

That’s right, key staff members and leaders who were supposed to help file for Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements were not in place.

For years, we’ve seen the big associations offer convention sessions about proper succession planning. I always assumed those were for CEOs, presidents and other titans who could determine company strategy for years in advance. 

But what the Nathaniel Witherell case lays clear is that if you aren’t proactive about succession planning for any key positions in your building, you’re creating a plan to fail.

This isn’t just about pure succession planning, however. That’s a given and should be done without question or hesitation.

This is also a floodlight on execs who may be tempted to goose their budgets by leaving open staff positions unfilled or by piling newly available tasks on existing staff.

As my colleague Kimberly Marselas writes today, The Witherell turned into a withered mess because remaining staff members were neither cross-trained enough nor received enough transfer of knowledge before a key employee left.

Worse, records revealed that there was just one accounts receivable employee doing the work normally given to two-and-a-half full-time employees. This, at a time when billings doubled, too. As a result, many bills will go uncollected.

But it is even worse than just leaving money in the uncollected column. One can safely assume that the under-armed employees whose facility was sent into a freefall because of staffing shortsightedness haven’t been the happiest campers around.

While it’s one thing not to win a lucky drawing, it’s entirely something else not to give your workers the support they need, including par-level staffing. After all, they’re the ones who have stuck around and tried to keep the ship on course throughout.

Included in that can be part-time employees, some of whom may seem the easiest to sacrifice but are the linchpins to successful departments. You know the kind: They give $1.50 worth of value on a 79-cent salary.

One big key, as Marselas’ article notes, is moving quickly to address looming shortfalls, and bad gaps in knowledge or skills.

Get your positions filled and equip existing staff well. And definitely get plans in place for the next time any — any — key employee leaves.

The wheels may already be in motion for the next one to go.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Executive Editor.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.