John O’Connor

Mama always said that when all is said and done, more usually gets said than done. A pandemic-related kerfuffle pitting nursing homes against the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services shows how right she was.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we are seeing what amounts to finger pointing from both camps. Each side is essentially claiming it did everything possible, while the other side should have done better.

Here’s my take: Both are half right.

But first, let’s take stock of what 2020 hath wrought.

It’s probably a safe bet that few among us spent New Year’s Eve contemplating how frightful the COVID-19 might turn out to be. A year ago, the nasty little bugger didn’t even exist (as far as we know).

And what an awful visitor it has turned out to be. More than 100,000 related deaths nationwide so far, with predictions that another 100,000 might be on the way. As if that’s not bad enough, long-term care is basically at the center of this terrible storm.

Against that backdrop, it’s fair to ask — and answer — four salient questions:

  1. Have facilities been fighting like devils to get PPE and prevent further damage as the pandemic escalated? Yes.
  2. Has CMS issued related directives and guidance? Yes.
  3. Could facilities have been better prepared? Yes.
  4. Could CMS have been more helpful early — and now? Yes.

To sum up, both sides have done many commendable things as the pandemic took hold. And yet, both sides could have done better.

It’s possible I offended both camps with the last statement. But as they taught us in journalism school, telling the truth is Job One.

Can anybody in CMS tell me the agency did absolutely everything possible to manage the pandemic and minimize its damage?

Can any operator make the same claim for long-term care?

You both did everything humanly possible? During the pandemic and before? Sorry, but I don’t think so.

Look, we all want to get this terrible episode over as quickly and with the least amount of damage as possible. Let’s just hope both sides can take some lessons, and perhaps be a bit more prepared next time.

That may not be as fun or exciting as playing the blame game. But it will lead to better outcomes, for all involved.

 John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s