John O'Connor, VP, Associate Publisher, Editorial Director

Mark Parkinson just might be the best leader the American Health Care Association has ever had.

He possesses a lawyer’s wit, a provider’s perspective and a lawmaker’s instinct for fixing things. These qualities have certainly served him well.

But what really sets him apart is an obvious love of data — and how it can be harnessed.

He may not be the first person who said if you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business. But he has clearly taken the adage to heart.

To witness one of his presentations is to see stats sliced and presented in ways that would impress an experienced sushi chef.

Many of us were expecting more of the same this past fall, when Parkinson spoke at the organization’s annual convention in Orlando. And to be sure, he did address evergreen challenges such as growing public scrutiny and mounting industry criticism.

But then he suddenly changed course and reminded providers to keep delivering … compassionate care.“Our mission is about love,” he said.

Huh? Look, I’m not questioning the mission. But considering the source, the statement was a bit jarring. It would be as if Spock suddenly turned  to Captain Kirk and said, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

So I considered Parkinson’s unlikely advice. And you know what? He’s absolutely correct. More than a million people find themselves getting help inside skilled care facilities each year. And the care that is received is not so easy to deliver.

Many times, residents arrive in a clinically complex state. Often, they are disoriented. Sometimes they are flat-out abusive. And don’t get me started about the pay or hours caregivers endure.

These are not conditions that typically make for an easy work day. Yet when you ask caregivers why they do what they do, the same sentiment keeps popping up: They want to make a difference.

And why is that? It’s pretty clear that there is a fair degree of compassion and love involved.

You probably already knew that. But a reminder never hurts. Even if it comes from a guy who would seem more likely to eat decimal points for breakfast.