James M. Berklan

Lost somewhere amid all the cookie baking, holiday parties and merry-making near the end of the year was nursing home operators’ most optimistic story of 2013. The public has an all-time high opinion of you.

There it was, in Gallup black and white: The percentage of poll subjects rating nursing home operators’ honesty and ethics standards as “very high” or “high” soared to 32%. That is not a backhanded compliment.

SNF operators rose by a greater margin (6 percentage points) over its last measured total (26% in 2010) than any other title.

That’s a better rise of favorable feelings than everyone else, including the perennial most trusted, nurses (82%), as well as those next in line: pharmacists (70%), grade school teachers (70%), medical doctors (69%), military officers (69%) and police officers (59%).

True, operators still have some ground to make up on overall ranking but, my, how far you’ve come.

You now rate just over the mid-line — sitting right after day-care providers (46%) and judges (45%) and ahead of auto mechanics (29%), bankers (27%), local office holders (23%) and business executives (22%). And you’re clearly not considered at the bottom of the barrel, where members of Congress (8%) and lobbyists (6%) wallow.

More respondents consider you “very high” (8%) than “very low (5%), and more voted “high” (24%) than “low” (17%). A solid 42% said “average,” while 4% had no opinion.

This says to me that the profession’s efforts to improve its image are working. The public, which creates the Gallup ratings, values responsiveness. Somebody’s doing something right.

I also believe baby boomers must be holding more favorable impressions — either because of their own experiences or those of their parents, or both.

The way nursing facilities have evolved their services also has created optimism. More and more, they are known as places where people go to recover from knee or hip surgery before returning home.  “Nurses, pharmacists and doctors — considered to be in the ‘healing’ occupations — rank the highest,” Gallup notes.

The public seems to be warming to the idea that nursing homes are part of the “healing” cycle, too.

Perceptions are formed over long periods of time, and that is also in play here. In addition, it is known that views of a profession change in response to scandal uncovered within it. That is vital. Memories of scandals that rocked the nursing home industry in the 1970s and beyond, and troubles in ensuing decades such as massive bankruptcy filings, are fading. Headlines remind us that are still too many bad apples out there, but the public is seeing the good more often.

Before last month’s release, the amounts of poll respondents ranking nursing home operators “very high” or “high” were 22% (1999), 24% (2004), 21% (2007) and 26% (2010). There is no reason to think an upward arc can’t continue.

It is a good time to keep the pressure on improvement efforts. 

But it is also a great time to raise a glass in praise of progress.

James M. Berklan is Editor at McKnight’s.