Editor's Desk: Out of ashes of despair an opportunity may rise

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Some of the greatest success stories emanate from some of the least likely places: bleak situations, unflattering news developments and seemingly indefensible, incomprehensible acts.

In other words, exactly what the nursing home community is facing in the case of Salvador and Mabel Mangano. They are, of course, known around the world as the couple who "let" 35 of their nursing home residents drown in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Any way you slice it, this is a huge story, and that's why we posed our Reader Poll question on it (see right) this month. Many respondents wondered how we could cover the issue, let alone ask such a question.
While the answers were all heartfelt and well thought out, they all may have missed one major point. Well, two (for some people), if you count the fact that simply posing the question itself passed no judgment.
No respondent appeared to look at this as a possible opportunity to achieve greater understanding of the struggles facing all nursing home operators.
There are two sides to every story, and the Manganos' has largely not been heard. They did not stay put (with their residents, please note) during the hurricane on a mere whim. Never before had their site flooded, not even during record storms decades ago. Nor did it flood during Katrina. The deadly water came only after government levees broke for the first time ever.
This is only part of the Manganos' defense, as their lawyer told me before a judge placed a gag order on all trial participants.
If the Manganos are heard, the outside world should get a more sympathetic view of them, and the jobs that readers of this magazine perform.
When this subject comes up, I can't help thinking about a recent prime-time television drama that addressed the issue of physicians who assisted in the deaths of trapped hospital patients during the Katrina ordeal. The courtroom drama was fictional, but its lesson may not be fantasy.
By the end of the show, when more information was heard from both sides, millions of people had had their initial perceptions turned upside down, and the accused were acquitted. The facts had not changed, but perceptions toward the accused had.
I'm not comfortable predicting an acquittal, but keep in mind there is potential here. Rather than another black eye or an albatross around the neck of skilled nursing providers everywhere, the Manganos' case could sensitize the public to challenges that providers must routinely face.

James M. Berklan is editor, McKnight's Long-Term Care News. Contact him at