Is long-term care a rock-solid enterprise dealing with a temporary setback it didn’t cause? Or is the field just months away from an all-but-certain collapse? Both? Neither?

If it seems hard to know, there’s a pretty good reason: the industry itself seems to keep changing the narrative. Actually, changing the narrative may not be the best choice of words. It’s more like adapting to the audience.

When the audience happens to be lawmakers, the message is all doom and gloom. Boiled down, what industry reps are insisting to the guardians of taxpayers’ dollars (which cover most of the industry’s bills) is this: Without more financial help and other assistance, most of us may not even survive the year.

But when the audience is the capital crowd, a very different tale is usually carted out: Yes, these are tough times, and the pandemic is a huge challenge to deal with — but think about the future. This is a growing market. Don’t miss out!

To be fair, long-term care is hardly the first sector to tailor its message to ensure a maximum benefit. And one might argue it’s a brilliant, multi-pronged strategy.

But the mixed messages can get confusing and a bit overwhelming at times. Especially when they are delivered at roughly the same moment.

At times like these, it’s important to keep a few basic things in mind. One is that despite what you might have heard elsewhere, long-term care is a business (and even nonprofits must make a margin). Like any enterprise, it must generate more money than it consumes to continue. Operators that master this simple business rule survive. The others do not.

The residuals of that reality are now playing out across the long-term care field. That’s the real story.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s