What not to do when criticized

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

If you want to see the trickle-down impact of lowering the bar related to our expectations of public political decorum, look no farther than Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R).

What led to Greitens writing a furious letter last week was a Missouri family and advocates of veterans asking for an independent investigation of the St. Louis Veterans Home. They also want staff at the home and the Missouri Veterans Commission replaced.

The 300-bed home is one of seven in the state providing round-the-clock care to aging veterans. The administrator told a St. Louis Dispatch reporter at the end of October that many of the concerns are misplaced, and the home was granted recertification in September.

But a former state representative and volunteer have spent months visiting the home and documenting care complaints. A 48-page report including interviews with family members was given to the governor in March.

Those of us in the long-term care field are no stranger to the challenges facing staff working in veterans' facilities. Any one of us in the industry can probably understand both sides — veterans homes are often underfunded and have room to improve, and families may not understand staff is doing the best it can. The administrator told the newspaper that there was room to improve with communication rather than care, and maybe he's correct. The investigators need time to do their jobs, and I'll reserve judgment until then.

But what infuriates me is that all sides are being let down by their governor, specifically because of his scathing letter to Sen. Roy Blunt Jr. (R) and Claire McCaskill (D). The Missouri senators, doing their job, had called for a deeper look into the veterans home.

Obviously, letters are sent to politicians all the time: I've read many where you have to dig for the subtext, or where they more resemble a policy memo than correspondence. I've never read one quite like this.

Greitens, as part of his defense, was either a) angry when he wrote the letter b) wanted to score political points with his Republican base rather than address anything of substance c) was badly misled by his staff that wrote the letter or d) all of the above.

While I encourage you to read it for yourself, in addition to starting the letter with a sarcastic comment about how he appreciated the senators' interest and that it was “good to see some signs of life out of Congress,” Grietens goes on to put in a whole lot of bluster and not a lot of evidence he's done much of anything to help veterans of their facilities in the great state of Missouri.

A veteran himself, Greitens impales himself with his ego in a paragraph in which he describes how that he knows his fellow service members and friends were mistreated. It's one of the reasons he ran for Congress and, “I've seen this pain with my own eyes. I didn't just read about it in a report.”

Well, maybe he should have, and maybe he should have responded six months ago. If it's true that everything at the St. Louis Veterans Home is fine, Greitens should say that, not wait until he's essentially forced into opening an investigation. Plus, being a member of a group doesn't give you immunity from criticism of that group. Being a veteran doesn't mean you can't have made mistakes related to the state's homes for veterans. That would be equivalent to me saying a female politician should never be challenged for her positions on gender-wage discrimination or maternity leave policies.

I'm not the only one who thinks Greitens could do better. It's not even a question about what he ignored or could have changed. It's that, to me, the toxic nature of the letter doesn't indicate someone fighting back as much as a deeply troubling state of politics, one in which a rude “but it's not my fault” tone is deemed to carry more weight with voters than a somber discussion of policy. My hope is voters — and long-term care folks who work in facilities — know better.

Ultimately, we have to hold lawmakers accountable to the standards of decency we expect in our own industry. Many long-term care industry experts and lawmakers are out fighting the good fight, and we all know it's tiresome. But at least, to the best of my knowledge, most are doing it without acting like a petulant teenager.

Follow Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.