John O’Connor

For those of us at a certain age, it’s hard to believe the first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier took place half a century ago.

To be sure, 1971 was a different time. For one thing, boxing — especially heavyweight boxing — was immensely popular. For another, there was a country-dividing war in progress.

The Fight, as their battle at Madison Square Garden was called, might have been the biggest boxing match ever. It was surely the most hyped. Two undefeated heavyweights were going at it, and each appeared to represent a different sensibility.

Strange as it might seem now, many boxing fans — and people in general — saw Ali as anti-American. After all, he had spoken out harshly against the Vietnam War, and flat-out refused to serve.

The actual fight was as good as advertised. It went the full 15 rounds, with Frazier taking a unanimous decision. Ali would go on to win two subsequent rematches, including the so-called Thrilla in Manila four years hence. Each contest was a brutal slugfest. Ali would later describe his final bout with Frazier as the closest thing to death he had ever known  — and he was the victor. Imagine how Frazier must have felt.

Speaking of skirmishes, there seems to be a nice one shaping up right now between long-term care and some in the government.

Operators are saying that Congress had best open up the purse strings, or a lot of facilities might soon shut down. How many? Up to half, according to some in the field.

In the other corner are some less-than-convinced lawmakers. Their counterpunch amounts to this: Not so fast.

“What about all the money we just threw your way?” they are demanding to know. They also keep asking why so many people keep getting COVID-19 and dying in long-term care facilities.  They insist that what nursing homes need more than more money is more accountability.

So who’s right and who’s wrong? They both are.

Yes, many nursing homes are hurting, and hurting in a big way. More than a few are not going to survive without more funding. Some may not make it with additional support.

But at the same time, the industry has been doing some things that are not exactly winning the hearts and minds of those who decide where to direct tax dollars (as in Medicare and Medicaid funding). The disproportionate number of COVID-related casualties in facilities offers a pretty good Exhibit A. But there is the opaque ownership issue, constant operator run-ins with the law (usually for fiscal chicanery) and a lot more where that came from.

Yes, the industry needs more money. But it also needs to stop giving critics so much ammunition.

As fights go, this one too could be an epic battle. It’s already starting to get ugly.

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