John O’Connor

So I went outside this morning and there they were.

Three teenage boys. Waiting for the school bus. That was one quick summer.

It’s funny how we sometimes get jarring reminders of how fast the calendars can move. That toddler down the street who’s now off to college. The young nephew who has joined a major firm. The friends who, frankly, aren’t looking so young anymore.

As I now take stock, virtually none of the writers I initially worked with and competed against are still in this field. Some have retired. The smart ones  found a more tranquil routine.

Nor are all but a few of the operators I met more than three decades ago still to be found. Life doesn’t just move by fast, it’s an ambush.

Of course, given how much this sector has changed since it started giving me a regular paycheck, I can’t help but wonder what the decades ahead might look like.

If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say things will likely improve, at least from a caregiving standpoint. But that doesn’t mean anyone working in long-term care today will necessarily be thrilled by the big-picture outcomes.

On the plus side, technology will continue to be a game changer. It will no doubt fuel upgrades in care and overall business management. How could it not?

Given the demographic changes taking place, we’ll surely see facilities serving more and more centenarians. But given our collective lifestyle habits, we’ll also keep seeing remarkably young care recipients – especially those with a hefty appetite for food and drugs.

Facilities will continue to find new and better ways to maximize publicly-funded reimbursement. They will also become more efficiently operated.

While healthcare demands will surely increase, there is good reason to believe this sector will increasingly become a real estate play. Just look at who the actual movers and shakers are these days – as well as the leading prospects.

Will congregate care for the aged even survive the decades to come? I have some doubts. It may not go away, but the communities that remain will likely become specialized and smaller.

Group living may increasingly become a lifestyle choice rather than an economic necessity. Frankly, almost everyone who can stay at home will. And there will certainly be many more helpful options available to make that choice realistic.

Where does all this leave you, Mr. or Ms. Skilled Care Operator?

It’s too early to tell. But this much about the future I can safely guarantee. It will sneak up on you.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s.