John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

It’s hard to listen to Mark Parkinson speak without gaining valuable insights.

The president and CEO of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living doesn’t just have a way with words. He has a way with delivering the right words when they are most needed.

Monday was no exception. Addressing the opening session of this year’s AHCA/NCAL convention, called Delivering Solutions 23, he singled out three nightmares the long-term care sector finds itself dealing with: clinical aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, related business setbacks — and mounting policy challenges.

Regarding the first matter, the news keeps getting better. Most of the health-related COVID-19 damage appears to be waning.

On the business front, there also is cause for optimism. That’s particularly the case when it comes to recent downturns in occupancy and staffing levels. In fact, Parkinson expressed confidence that a full recovery for nursing homes might be achieved by the time AHCA/NCAL convenes next year in Orlando, FL (occupancy recovery for senior living is ahead of that for nursing homes).

The third challenge, however — policy shifts — has become increasingly concerning, he noted.

This is especially true for nursing homes, of course, which, unlike senior living communities, are heavily regulated at the federal level. The current administration has blasted care delivered at these settings. More recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed a rule mandating nurse-staff minimums in skilled nursing facilities.

But make no mistake, senior living operators also are being targeted for new rules and regulations.

In Arizona, for example, the state’s Court of Appeals just ruled that the Grand Canyon State’s COVID-19 immunity shield is not legally valid. In Delaware, consumer groups are pushing for more restrictive oversight. And a new Maryland law could subject operators to licensure prosecution. The list goes on, but you probably get the idea.

Parkinson’s guidance for tackling those policy challenges is straightforward yet powerful: stick together.

He pointed out that the strategy has served the sector well in the past and is the key to success going forward.

Regarding the proposed staffing rule for skilled nursing, he called on members to submit comments explaining the hardships such a measure would cause. AHCA/NCAL had a booth at its annual conference where providers could do just that.

Additionally, he urged operators to invite lawmakers to their communities. Such visits would reveal a caregiving reality that differs starkly from many of the current criticisms.

Parkinson also called on members to take an active role in association-related efforts and events.

To be sure, the concept of “united we stand, divided we fall” is ancient. It dates back to Aesop more than 2,500 years ago. But its message remains as potent today as ever.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.