Aren’t you glad that when the survey team shows up at your long-term care facility, they don’t horizontally immobilize you, place an assortment of sharp tools in your mouth to prevent you from defending yourself and talk directly into your ear about everything you’re doing wrong? 

Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

In other words, aren’t you glad they aren’t dental hygienists?

While I lay helpless in the dentist’s torture chair recently, my hygienist took the opportunity to lecture me in a measured, earnest, condescending way that was part soothing National Public Radio morning host and part passive-aggressive mother. 

“So, have you been flossing like we agreed last time?” Poke, scrape, suction. “It doesn’t cost much, and takes so very little time.” Poke, scrape, non-verbal expression of disgust, suction. “Did you know the latest research links periodontal health to heart disease?” Poke. “Just wrap that floss in a C shape around the tooth and move it up and down.” Poke, scrape, sigh of resignation and pity, suction. “You don’t really have to, of course, unless you want to keep the rest of your teeth.” 

Maybe this is why most good facility administrators didn’t start out as dental hygienists. Once they got a taste of judging and reproving people without the burden of listening, they’d never want to go back to two-way communication. 

So based on my traumatic experience, here’s what I’d suggest to all current and future long-term care leaders —  avoid the hygienist approach. Don’t lecture without giving opportunity for response. Don’t paralyze your staff with micromanagement while filling their ears with relentless criticism. Withhold judgment until you understand both perspectives. 

And as for the survey team, next time they walk in, try to remember that it could be far worse. At least they won’t flip you on your back, clamp an extra N95 over your mouth to muffle your protests, and speak one-sided citations into your ear. And they won’t ask you to floss.