John O’Connor

We’re hearing a lot lately about ways to improve working conditions and resident care in skilled nursing facilities.

To be sure, there is hardly consensus on the best way to approach either challenge. So it was helpful to get some insight from a leader at the National Institute on Aging.

When we asked him how long-term care facilities really ought to look and function, this is what he had to say:

“The nursing home should be a galaxy with multiple services and facilities which would include day care, hospice. It should be multipurpose and should not just be a physical structure.

“My ideal home would start bringing us back to the framework where the care of people [is absolutely foremost].”

When we asked him about the staffing challenge so many operators face at the front lines, he responded this way:

“Turnover is rapid partly because of the pay, partly because [many workers] get very little feeling that they are important, they’re given very little training and it’s not the most pleasant kind of work.”

It appears I failed to mention our subject’s name. He is Dr. Robert Butler. I also neglected to mention when this interview occurred. Well, it appeared in the June 1980 issue of our magazine, so maybe a month or two prior?

By the way, Butler was director of the National Institute on Aging at the time.

Reading this nearly 39 year-old interview filled me with some distinctly mixed feelings.

On the one hand, the late Dr. Butler was brilliant and spot on. And who doesn’t enjoy listening to an expert share some hard-won wisdom? On the other, we’re still wrestling with both of these challenges nearly four decades later?

Since that interview took place, we’ve seen the emergence of  laptops, smartphones, email, texts, the expansion of the internet, apps for almost every conceivable interest, and the rise of social networking, to name but a few developments.

Yet we still can’t seem to figure out how to find and keep talent? And the government is still rewriting regulations and holding hearings with an eye toward making nursing homes better?

Let’s hope more progress is made during the next four decades.

John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.