Small steps trump big plans

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John O'Connor, Editorial Director
John O'Connor, Editorial Director
It's a rare week in Washington when there isn't a conference of experts tackling one or more of our most troubling policy matters.

Whether it's immigration reform, homeland security, budget pressures, energy or the minimum wage, it's a safe bet that somebody is calling for large-scale change, and somebody else is taking notes for posterity.

Small surprise, then, that think tanks are popping up faster than Starbucks' filling stations. But in the true spirit of Washington-style irony, they often seem to offer little in the way of new facts or insights that might lead to clearer thinking.

Guess these developments are all harmless enough. After all, our best thinkers probably should be directing their most profound thoughts on important issues. But I am a bit concerned with the dregs of this process. More to the point, the speeches, meetings and white papers tend to generate reports large enough to inflict an entire typing pool with carpal tunnel syndrome. Worse, they are almost universally ignored and forgotten once compiled.

So it was with more than a little amusement that I watched an off-the-wall item dominate the “most popular” category of our Web site ( during a recent week.

As you might guess, it's not a lawmaker's prescription for Medicare drugs, chest-thumping by a self-proclaimed union leader or even promising Alzheimer's research. Instead, it's about one of the most innovative tactics for reining in eloping residents to happen in a while. The headline probably says all you need to know: “Nursing home's fake bus stop foils wandering seniors.”

A facility in Germany has erected a phony bus stop in an effort to help prevent Alzheimer's residents from wandering. The sign, located outside the Benrath Senior Centre in Duesseldorf, is identical to a standard bus stop in all aspects spare one: buses don't actually stop there.

As residents with Alzheimer's often retain their long-term memories longer, they tend to realize that they can wait for the bus. This allows staff to approach the residents, and “invite” them into the facility for a cup of coffee until their bus comes along.

What a great way to diffuse a potentially harmful situation. Of course, the odds of something like this happening in America are slim. The red tape involved in getting a faux sign erected would probably exasperate most facility operators. Then there's the little matter of the sign not being completely legal, which would no doubt invite a lawsuit.

That noted, it's worth pointing out that it's rarely the 10-point plan for a major overhaul that gets carried out. More often than not, it's the small innovation fueled by insight and common sense that tends to get implemented. 

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