James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor
James M. Berklan, McKnight’s Editor

All we wanted was a nugget, a morsel, a few bread crumbs maybe. And this is what we got instead? Lord, help us.

If long-term care providers (and their residents and families) needed any more depressing confirmation that they are not on the presidential radar screen, they’ve gotten it full-blast over the past week or so.

First, President Obama barely acknowledges such a thing as healthcare in his State of the Union address last week. Despite impassioned pleas from long-term care lobbyists, he wouldn’t touch nursing home care with somebody else’s 10-foot pole, to riff on a pair of old sayings.

The Republicans also have had their turn. First, we had presidential candidate Rick Santorum saying that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services should be abolished. Granted, he was trying to point out a need to clean up excessive bureaucracy. But this is the best he could do — advocating the elimination of the source that pays for about 75% of the payments for U.S. long-term care?

Then the nonsense climbed to new lows Tuesday with “robo-calls” across the pivotal state of Florida. They warned voters that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had forced “Holocaust survivors” to eat non-kosher food for the first time in their lives. The calls were paid for by Newt Gingrich’s campaign at a time when the former House Speaker was forecast to lose Tuesday’s Florida primary by double-digit percentage points.

On Monday, Gingrich also had told a live crowd in Florida that, “Romney as governor eliminated kosher food for retired Jewish senior citizens.”

Great, finally something serious for those covering senior care to report about, right?

Well, not really. You see, it seems that Gingrich’s campaign might have been looking for any hot-button issue it could find. One Jewish journalist called it “a last-minute attempt from a second place GOP candidate to play on the fears of the Jewish elderly.”

In fact, numerous outlets and bloggers — Jew and Gentile alike — have spent the better part of the last two days trying to clarify the issue. They write that, due to the higher costs of preparing kosher meals, often for relatively few residents, facilities themselves had decided to close their own kosher kitchens and bring in the food by other means. No one was ever denied — or threatened to be denied  — access to kosher meals.

True, a proposal that would have granted $600,000 to allow the kitchens to remain open was vetoed by Romney. He was either trying to be prudent during a budget crisis or was being insensitive to Jews, depending on your point of view. Regardless, the Legislature overrode the veto and the kitchens remained open anyway.

It’s also worth noting this was in 2003, although Gingrich said he just learned of it. In Florida. Right before the primary.

“Gingrich’s comments have little basis in reality,” concluded Jewish blogger Alana Goodman for the online Commentary magazine. 

So there you have it: No real mention at all from Obama, unrealistic commentary from Santorum and “little basis” in reality from Gingrich.

The only thing real clear right now is where senior care fits on the presidential totem pole: underground.