Kimberly Marselas
Kimberly Marselas

The pumpkins are packed away, lights are starting to show up on neighbors’ houses and my family calendar is quickly filling up with Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities.

Among our destinations later this fall: The National Christmas Tree, which has been decorated annually by presidents and visited by millions since 1923. That makes this year’s tree lighting — the first live one since 2019, thanks to COVID-19 — the 99th.

Visiting The Ellipse, a cozy little park between the White House and The National Mall that turns into a magical, evergreen-dotted landscape each December, feels like a seasonal ritual to me. Having grown up in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, it’s a place I’ve come to celebrate with friends and family many times over the years.

Of course, if you’re a skilled nursing provider, there’s little chance you’re using the words “Washington” and “celebrate” in the same sentence much right now.

Over the last two weeks, federal regulators have thrown their fair share of “presents” your way: a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all healthcare workers, a broader vaccine mandate for large employers, new guidance busting the doors wide open to visitors, and a renewed emphasis on surveying activity that could soon have state survey agencies’ little elves buzzing around your hallways more than ever again.

As we approach Thanksgiving week, providers are, of course, still hungering for some details. And, indeed, some are being hammered out. We just learned, for instance, that the first healthcare worker shots are now required by Dec. 6, since the rule’s original Dec. 5 date falls on a Sunday. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also is promising more clarity on how states must ensure COVID protocols are met by on-site surveyors.

When it comes to other elements, though, there’s less hope for last-minute details that could change reality. Still, many of you are praying for some way to lessen the blow and limit staff attrition in the face of vaccination deadlines.

That’s a holiday miracle you’ll have to deliver on your own behalf. 

The best gifts you can give your organization this season are time to prepare; a line-up of educational and staffing resources from associations and local or state organizations; and maybe a secondhand (but really useful) playbook from a provider who’s already had success with its own mandate.

Look at it this way, there’s no more dreading what’s in the box, no fear that you’re getting some dud gift dressed up in the fanciest of double-sided wrapping paper. Like that poor sucker who pulls the worst number in a White Elephant gift exchange, you know what you’re dealing with here.

Let’s hope the waiting was the hardest part.

Now, it’s time to check off the to-do lists, make nice with the rules of the day and, by all means, stay off the naughty list.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.