John O’Connor

If you looked close enough, you saw it on many faces at the Argentum and American Health Care Association meetings. Careful observers will notice it again this week, as LeadingAge’s annual conference plays out.

What is the “it” in question? Fear.

These days, all too many providers are living in fear. They are afraid they might lose their livelihoods. They are afraid they might lose their facilities. And they are afraid they might lose more of the people they care for. There’s more, too. But those are the big fear factors.

Operators tend to be a stoic lot. But the telltale signs are there: the slumped shoulders, the averted looks, the sitting alone, staring off into space.

Not that you could blame them for being tense and morose. Has there ever been a better time to be glum? Let’s face it, the past year and half has not exactly been a joyride.

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed or helped kill more than 700,000 people, including many who lived in skilled care buildings. And as beds emptied, costs rose, and rose, and rose. As for the frontline workers? Well, many have left, never to return.

Any way you slice it, things have not been fun. Many operators now find themselves wondering how much more they can take, both fiscally, and psychologically. Clearly, some facilities will not be run by the same folks this time next year. Other communities will simply shut down.

If there is any good news to be found here, it’s that the worst may be over. We are starting to see some signs of an occupancy recovery. More federal aid may be coming. And operators are learning to adapt to the new realities and rules of infection control. Progress is being made.

When COVID-19 began, I predicted operators would survive, because that is what they do. I still stand behind that prediction. But I must admit the carnage has been worse than I expected. I imagine it’s worse than most in this field anticipated as well.

Yes, we will get through this. Or at least, most of us will. But many operators won’t have to tell us how rough it has been. You can see it in their eyes.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s.