James M. Berklan

Although the pleas are sincere, and even increasingly aggressive, it seems that long-term care providers are not going to be getting all the federal help they need for getting enough personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A government agency openly acknowledges that nursing homes are ground zero for this global scourge, and statistics support the scholarly presumption that half of all COVID-19 deaths will ultimately be attributed to nursing home settings. But the absolute highest priority isn’t given to getting them PPE, adequate testing and funding? The logic escapes many of us, but that will be an argument here for another day, when there no doubt will be many fewer older people around. 

Suffice it to say,  many more are going to die. Most will be old. Many will be nursing home residents, and some will be nursing home workers.

So the pleas of desperation rightfully continue. To federal authorities and lawmakers. To state officials. To editorial boards. For masks. For special eyewear. For gowns, the current toughest quest. And for gloves, which will be the next hardest-to-get item, as confirmed by new production pitfalls being reported out of the Far East this week.

The quest by long-term care stakeholders and lobbyists for more PPE is truly noble.

But I have to tell you, folks, you’re going about it all wrong.

One only has to look across the Atlantic to some enterprising German physicians to find an eye-opening way to appeal for more PPE. The doctors, inspired by a like-minded French physician before them, found a most effective way to appeal for more safety garments and equipment. Their group is called Blanke Bedenken, which translates as “naked concerns.”

They started posting photos of themselves nude, saying this is how they felt without enough PPE to protect them. “I learned to sew wounds. Why do I have to be able to sew masks now?” reads a sign held by one physician. “Is that enough?” says another sign in front of a doctor wearing nothing but a blood pressure cuff.

More than two dozen photos of physicians looking at the camera — tall, short, large, small, male, female, inside and outside — populate the website. All are tastefully shot, the strategic medical text or stethoscope placed here, the helpful rolls of toilet paper there, keeping things suitable for workplace viewing. Only an occasional buttock is revealed during a faux examination.

Has the campaign been successful? There’s evidence it has, but it’s hard to know for sure. An email to the group — sent in their native tongue, no less — was answered with an automated apology.

It turns out the doctors group was besieged with so much attention and so many requests for information, it overwhelmed the system. They noted they simply didn’t have enough time or hands to answer everyone. They still do have patients to take care of after all.

Germany has about one-fourth the population of the United States, so just think how much media attention a similar campaign could garner here. The TikTok videos and other YouTube productions of singing staff members pledging to wash their hands more and take care of residents have truly been a breath of fresh air the past couple of months.

But what if docs, nurses and even administrators and lobbyists started distributing shots of themselves trying to conduct business au naturel to get their point across? 

Forget about suit and tie the next time American Health Care Association President and CEO Mark Parkinson appeals to the viewers on CNN, Fox News or any other high-wattage broadcast. Perhaps in the buff, with an armload of statistics appropriately placed, he could truly make the powers that be stop glad handing and get actual high-priority help moving in the right direction.

The next time Argentum’s top exec James Balda or LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan is invited to the White House? Maybe they should skip the business formal and come unclothed, carrying strategically situated photo albums. Show those who have suffered while the government has responded less urgently in deed than their words might promise. (The scenario of Smith Sloan being asked back to this White House being purely hypothetical, of course, after she’s been so righteously outspoken on behalf of eldercare providers lately.)

Or better yet, instead of talking about disbanding the White House coronavirus task force, let’s talk about disrobing it. Require that they conduct their next briefing without, well, as much as their briefs on. Then let’s see how quickly we get action where unprotected exposure means real danger — every day, for the nation’s frail elders and their valiant caregivers.

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JImBerklan.