The good folks taking care of the elderly in Arizona are done playing the role of piñata. They’re also done addressing their detractors one-by-one.

It’s “game on” in the Grand Canyon State, and the rest of the country should be watching.

Borrowing methods from their successful counterparts in Pennsylvania, the Arizonans announced this week that they have formed a CARE Coalition and adopted the “Who  will care?” rallying cry.

The aim is to amplify public awareness of the good things going on in skilled nursing, senior care, assisted living and other eldercare settings. The main targets of this planned barrage of personal good news stories are primarily key state legislators, the governor and other vital stakeholders.

The Arizona Health Care Association, LeadingAge Arizona and the Arizona Assisted Living Federation have each contributed funding and placed four members on their CARE Coalition board. They’ve decided enough is enough and are intent on dealing head-on with at least a dozen proposed regulatory and legislative issues being tossed their way.

It’s all about getting a voice at the right tables, and in the right ears. This goes way beyond the usual lobbying, the stress.

“What has never happened in the past is where we all jumped in and took all the issues and put them together and said, ‘OK, who will care if we put all these regulations in place? Somebody will go out of business,’” explained AZHCA Executive Director David Voepel. “All three organizations are behind one another.”

He said he took notes last fall when Pennsylvania Health Care Association Zach Shamberg led a “brilliant” “Who will care?” campaign in that state. 

Providers in places like Iowa, Nebraska and elsewhere also have taken up the cause of advocating harder than ever for themselves and their long-term care members. In addition, campaigns to raise Medicaid rates have been successful in numerous states since the pandemic hit.

After last fall’s assisted living exposes in the Arizona Republic, there are a bunch of worrisome issues that could involve tighter controls or scrutiny of providers, Voepel said.

Providers OK with some proposals

The kicker? Providers are actually OK with many of them. But operator voices of reason are needed as plans get hashed out. The topics range from resident room cameras (“We can figure out cameras,” Voepel says.) to dementia care practitioner certification issues, to adult protective services and so on.

“Some mean well but they might not really understand what the regulations mean, and some of the [proposals] are already covered by current regulations,” Voepel told me Thursday. 

Then he got really real.

“People will continue to fall. There’s no stopping that,” he acknowledged. “Fraud will continue in certain places. There are some bad actors because it’s humans taking care of humans. But we can mitigate those things.”

That includes impressing upon key legislative committee members there are real human beings intent on continuing their compassionate, heartfelt work.

“We need to get the other story out — about all the good stuff that’s happening, not only with the operators but the employees themselves. They do such a great job,” Voepel explained.

The CARE Coalition stands for: Communication, Accountability and Responsiveness in Eldercare. The organizations comprising it will remind the key leaders what good works are the norm in Arizona facilities — and ask the Legislature for more funding. Its current session ends in April, so coalition members should have a good idea soon whether their efforts are resonating with the right people.

It’s a “never ending project,” Voepel mentioned.

“We won’t get a win everywhere,” he concedes. “But we don’t get losses everywhere and we won’t get our heads handed to us. And we’ll tell them, ‘If you’re going to do this [increased regulation and oversight] to us, we’re going to need more dollars so we can pay more people.’”

“Progress will be small and incremental,” he added, “but we have to get the word out.”

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Long-Term Care News’ Executive Editor. Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.