Why Volkswagen should serve as a cautionary tale

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

At first glance, it might appear Volkswagen and long-term care operators have little in common.

One mostly makes cars. The other mostly takes care of post-acute patients. But in at least one important way, the two are perhaps not so different.

Both have struggled for decades with heavy-handed regulators. Both have sometimes bent the rules while doing so. And both have been caught.

For providers, the more recent trips to the proverbial principal's office have been fueled by issues large and small: opaque ownership documentation, less-than-factual staff reporting, antipsychotic mishaps and dubious therapy billings, just to cite a few examples.

For its part, Volkswagen got in trouble for equipping 11 million vehicles with software that cheats emissions tests.

In the wake of the Volkswagen scandal, CEO Martin Winkerton has resigned. It's not immediately clear if he knew what was going on.

But with rank comes responsibility. That's an essential part of running a business that is frequently overlooked. There's another that often gets short shrift as well: setting the right example.

All leaders — especially those running firms that take care of the elderly and infirm — need to be sensitive to the shadow they cast. Yes, every business exists to make a profit. But if the message you send out is one of growth at any cost, you shouldn't be terribly surprised if your subordinates act accordingly.

Companies don't consistently obey or flout the rules by accident. More often than not, such behavior reflects a message from the top. So what's it going to be at your community? Living by the mission statement? Or offering just lip service?

By now it should be pretty clear where each road leads.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.