John O’Connor

COVID-19 is the best thing that happened to long-term care, said no operator, ever.

For no matter how you size things up, the pandemic’s effect on this sector has been pretty rotten. Costs have risen, occupancy has declined and staffing is more problematic than ever.

Meanwhile, operators are widely being accused of putting profits before residents, hiding behind opaque corporate structures and doing a lousy job in general. But don’t take my word for it, take John Oliver’s.

For more than 22 minutes, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight delivered a searing rant on the field’s many shortcomings. To be sure, some of the examples he uses are dated, extreme and a bit unfair. But it would be ill-advised to focus exclusively on them, while ignoring the dubious business practices that are laid bare.

Perhaps even more troubling than the finger pointing is his remedy: replace skilled care with home care. Now them’s fighting words.

So other than getting angry about more bad publicity, how should operators respond? Here’s my suggestion: adapt. Although truth be told, the advice is hardly original. Charles Darwin wrote about adaptation as a key to survival more than 150 years ago. 

For some practical advice that’s a bit more current, you could do worse than follow the recommendations recently served up by Michael G. Jacobides and Martin Reeves in The Harvard Business Review

The authors call on firms (including yours) to challenge traditional notions, and actively use data to unearth new opportunities. Once that is accomplished, make the required investment needed to adjust your business model accordingly.

“In times of crisis, it’s easy for organizations to default to old habits — but those are often the times in which new approaches are most valuable,” they note. 

Make no mistake: The pandemic is a national tragedy. To suggest that something that has put more than a quarter of a million people in early graves might be good is not just insensitive, it’s borderline cruel. But if there is something of value to be pulled from the debris here, perhaps it’s this: COVID-19 is forcing many long-term care operators to change, and change for the better.

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