James M. Berklan

If someone were to complain that long-term care has become a “same old, same old” scene, you might be inclined to agree. Staffing, reimbursement, over-regulation — they’re all ongoing challenges — well, OK, outright problems. And they’re not the only ones. But things clearly are not the same.

Yes, long-term caregivers will need their continual “high-touch” approach. And staffing, funding and oversight will continue to be thorns that will remain in providers’ sides as long as they’re in the business.

But operators also have changes to look forward to. That point was driven home earlier this week, when I saw firsthand the creativity at the LINK 2014 Innovation Competition. As part of the broader LINK 2014 LTC & Senior Living Conference, the competition showcased vendors and their top new wrinkles and wares.

On Monday, 12 finalists gave their best “Shark Tank” presentations before an impartial judging panel. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the five-person panel and hear the value that each of them offers. (I also read about 30 additional entrants that didn’t make the first cut. All were impressive.)

After all of that, I can tell you that if you think it’s the same old business out there, you have another thing coming.

Data crunchers, smartphone systems, integration with other care partners, dining re-inventions, social media, social consciousness. All were the focus of some company’s special initiative.

Driving the progress are groups such as the Center for Aging Services Technology (CAST), the LTC PAC HIT summit, various government agencies, and initiatives such as the new Louisville senior-core corridor, to name just a few.

If you’re honest, you’ll recognize that in just a few years, the musings have gone from wondering “If …” to pondering exactly “when” something will happen. We see it in our daily lives, whether it’s interaction with smartphones, Wi-Fi, social media, enhanced notification systems or super-powered number-crunching. Not “if” but “when.”

Why it’s happening is pretty simple. We’re enjoying such things in our personal lives, so it is only natural they will be desired — no, expected — in professional caregiving, as well. The open market is the primary driver in independent and assisted living. Boomers, in particular, would have it no other way — than their way, that is.

On the skilled nursing side, there’s another huge force: Uncle Sam. Yes, the often-cheap-but-pushy-relative everyone shares is demanding, but he also is a source of motivation and reward. Various agencies are pushing innovation and technology adoption with pilot programs and incentives for those who take part.

For suppliers, it means you need to stay on top of your game more than ever.

For providers, it means you shouldn’t settle for the status quo. Your clients won’t, so neither can you. Push vendors to raise the bar. As seen at the LINK innovation competition, vendors clearly know how to lift their games to a new level.

For details on the winners, click here.

Things obviously are not the same — and aren’t going to be ever again.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Editor.