John O'Connor

I was hoping to get clear answers about the sector’s future at the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry’s regional meeting last week in San Diego. I did, but I also must admit there were times when it was hard to give the various speakers the attention they deserved.

It probably doesn’t help that there’s enough sleep-inducing food laid out at an NIC function to feed a Chinese province. Then there’s the hotel ballroom lighting, which is a painful combination of harsh and oxygen-depleting. Add in mornings that started well before dawn and lasted late into the night, and staying on task can become a major challenge.

Even if you don’t feel like your personal battery is dipping below 20%, it can be tough to pay attention as sector kingpins review their talking points. It’s sort of like praying the Rosary: You know you should be giving those Hail Marys an honest effort, but as the sixth decade rolls around, you can start wondering why you never noticed those nail marks in the ceiling before.

My hope for enlightenment awoke during the opening session, when American Health Care Association President and CEO Mark Parkinson said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the sector’s long-term prospects.

The former Kansas governor said that, yes, the newly enacted sequester will give providers a Medicare haircut to the tune of 2% or so. But we won’t really know how those cuts take place until Washington insiders decide how to carve up the old golden calf. Golden calf: Mmmm, wonder if beef is on the lunch menu?

But then he reminded the room — which was largely full of bankers and other folks who sell money for a living — to consider the big picture. Big picture: Has Panasonic broken through the 152-inch TV screen barrier ceiling? Could a larger screen also deliver 3D support along with 4k-by- 2k resolution?

As visions of ever-larger flat screens danced in my head, I realized the governor was speaking metaphorically. Look at the fundamentals, he reminded the black suits. Good location, good execution, money access when it’s needed, and a case-mix to die for. This doesn’t sound like an industry that needs hospice? Wait, let me rephrase that.

Then I thought about the smokers, partiers, jocks and other assorted degenerates I hung out with in high school. Not too many of them ever got the chance to be in the same room as a real, live governor. This, of course, made me wonder if chimney sweeps with Cockney accents really do use “’ello guvnah” as a general greeting, the way Dick Van Dyke did in “Mary Poppins.”

Then the frighteningly intelligent Alan Rosenbloom weighed in. This guy knows Washington better than my plumber knows pipes. As he laid out the fourth or fifth possible sequestration-related scenario, I again found myself drifting away. It was almost as if he was slowly reciting the highest known number for pi, digit by digit, as few could ever do. Did he say “14676923” or“14676924”?

On the flight home, I counted my blessings. I had just enjoyed the rare experience of listening to some of the field’s sharpest minds lay out their visions for the future. I should have felt better informed. I had soaked up a lot, but I have to admit, I was having a tough time getting my mind off those apple-filled desserts that were jumping off the breakfast buffet.

The locals will tell you that the fog rolls out of San Diego by late morning. But it can hide between the ears all day.