Would you rather have snakes?

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

You might think you have problems in your long-term care facility. Low census, perhaps. Poor outcomes. Maybe you just found some hand grenades in a resident's fridge.

But whatever they are, or how insurmountable they seem, pause and ask yourself just one question: Would I rather have snakes?

This can be a critical tool for putting challenges in perspective and avoiding counterproductive overreactions. I learned this lesson from my sister this very week, and plan to use it often.

As I understand the story from her gripping Facebook account, she descended the staircase in her home, blithely rounded the corner to the kitchen and saw …

[Brace yourself. Sit down. Deep breath. Okay, continue.]

… a 5-foot, black, slippery, awful, icky, horrifying rat snake emerging from under her oven, the first of three — THREE! — she found that day. [Author's note: I submitted a photo with this article. If it's not included, that means the editor fainted.]

“I have had it with these gosh darn snakes in this gosh darn kitchen,” she exclaimed. Samuel L. Jackson couldn't have said it better.

Understand, she doesn't live in or near a tropical jungle. She has made no recent visits to the Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary in South Africa, which advertises among its many drawing cards, “an indigenous snakepit.”

No, she lives in North Carolina, which has houses and roads and laws and Wi-Fi and Olive Garden. These things just shouldn't happen, especially in a state that's “First in Freedom,” though the motto doesn't specify whether that means freedom from snakes or for them. Hopefully the Legislature will tackle that oversight in its next session.

I don't know exactly what happened next. I'm not sure if the snakes talked to her, or if she was invited at any point to eat a forbidden piece of fruit. But at some point, long snake story short, her heroic husband donned some gloves and carried each intruder gently to the great outdoors.

He also claims to have solved the problem by blocking all possible entry points, but from my experience, snakes are a lot like love — they always find a way.

Within long-term care, perhaps this should serve as a wake-up call. I'm told that nursing home regulations forbid certain creatures from entering a facility, and I hope and pray snakes are among them. But since animal literacy has plunged in recent years, they're unlikely to be deterred by signage alone.

Instead, you'll need to educate your staff on how to recognize a snake, defang it with charm, and lure it back outside. If, God forbid, one happens to sneak by, it's not the end of the world. The long-term care squirrel problem is well-documented, and snakes represent a viable solution.

But assuming your Snake Abatement program is successful, you should unabashedly add it to the data you share with possible managed care partners. It could come in particularly handy if you need to create a distraction from certain sub-optimal measures. “Readmissions show room for improvement, but as you can see in this chart, our snake intrusion scores are perfect.”

And at a deeper and more important level, for all of us innocently descending the staircase of life and blithely turning toward the kitchen, this can be a valuable teaching moment.

Sure, sometimes things look bad. Sure, the future can be difficult and frightening. But, seriously, would we rather have snakes?

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former SNALF.com at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

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Things I Think

Things I Think is written by longtime industry columnist Gary Tetz, who resides in Portland, OR. Since his debut with SNALF.com at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.

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