Usually when protesters want to make a show of force, there’s a simple principle in play: More is better.

You know, jam the National Mall, clog local streets, rattle the rafters with booming chants, etc.

Not so for the long-term care folks in Pennsylvania this week. And it was brilliant.

On Tuesday, long-term care providers, union workers and others took their cases for more support to the Pennsylvania statehouse in Harrisburg. Each group had its own agenda and rally. But they found common ground in arguing the system needs more cash.

Providers made their point in minimalist fashion. Just 50 caregivers and managers from across the state — and it’s a big one, let me tell you, having spent much of the last week driving back and forth across only part of it — attended a rally hosted by the Pennsylvania Health Care Association.

The challenges in Pennsylvania mirror those of many other states: Nearly 20% of its long-term care workforce has evaporated during the pandemic. Some providers have turned away 20 would-be patients a month simply because they don’t have enough staff to safely serve them.

Ten facilities have closed since pandemic, mostly because of low Medicaid funding, they claim. Currently, nearly half of operators in the state said they average 32 beds put out of commission due to a shortage of workers.

PHCA President and CEO Zach Shamberg delivers an appeal Tuesday in the Pennsylvania capitol main rotunda.

So what did the PHCA crowd do about it? They showed up — to token effect.

Picture 50 people. It is not a lot with which to fuel a protest.

But, oh, the somber faces they wore on the steps of the main rotunda at the capitol building.

Yet it was the signs that really did it for me. 

“Who Will Care?” each placard posed. In the past, providers might have been accused of drawing attention mostly to their own plight. But this wonderful play on words — Who will care? — takes things a big leap further.

Who’s going to care enough to make sure the state’s frail and elderly get taken care of? Better yet: Who dares not care enough to supply needed resources?

This is a slogan every frontline worker, building owner and citizen in the country can repeat. It doesn’t make a comfortable position for wavering or dissenting funders. Which is kind of the point.

By not making it about themselves, the PHCA crew cleverly did make it about themselves. 

To what good end remains to be seen, but Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has shown signs of recognition that senior care needs a boost. And that’s better than in many places.

In fact, other states have started to pick up on the #WhoWillCare hashtag. PHCA’s accompanying WWC website is also worth a look. This is how advocacy is done right, and to eye-catching effect. Tuesday’s event was all about focusing on the workforce crisis, access to care problems and operational sustainability – three key components in PHCA’s budget advocacy efforts

As a state with one of the oldest populations, Pennsylvania will have to come to grips with its caregiving needs, and soon.

The Who Will Care? campaign is a great step in the right direction.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Executive Editor.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.