John O’Connor

Pity the nation’s nursing homes. Or as so many seem to view them, the scourge of the Earth.

Never mind that despite being massively underfunded, these settings are tasked with providing care to more than 1.6 million mostly older, incredibly sick, usually post-acute care patients each year.

They are bad places. Bad, bad, bad.

Not like honorable hospitals. OK, so it may be technically true that many more people die in hospitals each year.

And that hundreds of thousands more are given inappropriate and sometimes lethal medicines in hospital settings.

And that thousands of surgical procedures are performed in hospitals each year that are not needed, or botched.

And that many pay their bosses millions of dollars each year while calling themselves “nonprofits.”

And that most pay not a penny in property taxes.

And that most hospitals dropped their employees like bad habits in recent months to take advantage of newly-devised tax breaks.

Let’s turn a blind eye to all that. Such realities at many acute-care settings are small potatoes in the grand scheme. Because we all know, deep down, hospitals truly care. They exist purely to serve. And they are run by people with nothing but good intentions. 

So what if hospitals happen to make a bit of money on the side? So what if many of them seem to act more like landlords than care managers? So what if they get a little creative and excessive when it comes to billings? Or when reporting the “indigent” people they serve to preserve their nonprofit tax status? We’re talking about fine people here, darn it!

Not like nursing homes. Nope, nursing homes are icky and sleazy. They are run by ruthless, greedy penny pinchers, most of whom deserve to be in prison, right? Why should their employees be applauded as heroes? Why should they get the same access to personal protective equipent or needed supplies during a pandemic? Why should they be seen as contributing to society? Why should they get sympathetic treatment, or the benefit of any doubt, ever?

While we’re at it, let’s make sure government agencies hound nursing homes like angry detectives, and issue damning reports whenever facilities don’t seem to measure up. And keep those reports free of context addressing the long odds and discrimination nursing homes routinely bump up against.

And let’s make sure the “results” of those investigations get lots of negative media coverage that helps cement existing prejudices.

But let’s leave hospitals alone. Unless a hospital crisis is so large and obvious it can’t be ignored. 

A clear double standard, you say? Perish the thought!

No, it’s not that at all. The real issue is that one healthcare setting is as pure as the driven snow. The other is borderline evil.

Once you understand that clear distinction, it’s easy to see how one player gets a pass, while the other usually takes a beating. If only there weren’t such an obvious difference.

In the way nursing homes are treated, that is.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s