Ambitious ideas regarding long-term care’s future can be expected when mass vaccinations bring some stability and conditions settle down, said American Health Care Association CEO and President Mark Parkinson.

Image of Mark Parkinson, president and CEO, AHCA/NCAL
Mark Parkinson, president and CEO, AHCA/NCAL

AHCA’s board of governors has been considering a variety of proposals “as we head into this introspective phase about what should happen to long-term care,”  Parkinson told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. AHCA hopes “to have some bold proposals as we head into the spring of 2021,” Parkinson said in a Dec. 23 interview.

Such proposals have to fit three criteria, he explained. One, they have to make a “real” difference in care for residents; two, they have to be capable of being implemented, pointing out that minimum staffing requirements, for example, may not be practical given the workforce shortage; and three, proposals can’t worsen already low profit margins.

Some of the top proposals AHCA is analyzing include: expanded use of infection preventionists; finding ways to improve Medicaid rates so salaries of frontline employees can increase; and developing a survey process that would create more accountability for providers and regulators to improve patient care.

The PR challenge

Another task for 2021 will be working to repair long-term care’s image in the minds of consumers and workers, Parkinson said.

“It would be naïve to think that 100,000 people could die in long-term care facilities and that we wouldn’t have a problem with our image, that we wouldn’t have a problem with thinking that people would be comfortable putting their parents or grandparents into our buildings,” he acknowledged.

He said that rebuilding the image will require proving to the public that long-term care is safe for people’s loved ones. It also will entail better presenting long-term care’s side of the pandemic story.

“This pandemic was not the fault of long-term care and the rapid spread of the virus in long-term care facilities also wasn’t the fault of long-term care or the buildings,” he said. “It has to do with the asymptomatic spread of an incredibly contagious virus. I think as the public becomes more educated on what exactly happened in these buildings and why it happened and as the buildings become safer because of the vaccines, I believe that we will slowly and steadily build back the public trust.”

It won’t happen overnight.

“It will take some time, but it will come back,” Parkinson said optimistically. “At the end of 2021, census will not be as high as it was going into 2020. But in a couple of years, census will recover. It will be slow and it will be steady, and the public will come back.”

Read more about long-term care leaders’ plans for 2021 in the January/February print issue of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.