LTC: State of the industry

Challenging times for long-term care operators are also times for optimism.

What is the state of long-term care in Kentucky?

A state of flux. A state of evolution. A state of unprecedented opportunity, and maybe a state of peril depending on certain budget cuts and legislative changes.

I’m sure many of our peers would agree that 2011-2012 has been difficult for long-term care (LTC) operators and providers. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been a period of learning and growth for our leaders and teammates, and this is undoubtedly true for others in the industry.

Operators Struggle in Current Climate
In Kentucky, issue No. 1 is the hostile litigation environment in the Commonwealth, even as many neighboring states have in place some form of tort reform. While mistakes should be acknowledged and penalties paid when appropriate, the monetary awards being demanded and doled out in some cases are more than compensatory. Often, they’re exorbitant.

The current climate drastically impacts the ability of Kentucky’s LTC operators to thrive. These operators, which generate billions in annual revenue and contribute mightily to the state’s tax base, are sometimes being punished unfairly. Sadly, some are looking to pull out of Kentucky altogether.

Meanwhile, the threat of future reimbursement cuts hangs heavy over the heads of our state’s LTC providers as these providers struggle with cuts that have already been implemented during the past two years.

Big Changes on Horizon
It’s no secret that big changes are on the horizon for all healthcare providers under the Affordable Care Act. As tens of millions more Americans will have access to health insurance under the act, we are also charged with the task of figuring out how to provide care to these individuals when there is already a shortage of medical experts in many parts of the state and country.

As a result, healthcare providers of all disciplines will need to work together more closely. Nurse practitioners and other physician extenders will become an even more vital piece of the puzzle with greater demand for medical care and changes to payer methodology.

Without question, these are challenging times for LTC. But these are also times for optimism as we seize the opportunity at this pivotal time in history to chart a new course for our nation’s fragmented healthcare system.

Treating the Geriatric Boom
We’re also on the precipice of the largest geriatric boom the United States has ever known – and this bunch is much more delicate, as consumers, than their parents were.

That means we’re rethinking how we approach them, both as customers and as patients or residents with specific needs and wants.

This is true not only in the arena of clinical care, but greater consideration is being given to the nursing home resident experience as a whole. Options are greater, food is improving, entertainment opportunities are more varied, and facilities are more like private homes or even neighborhoods. Wellness programs and therapies increasingly address the person as a whole–mind, body and spirit–in addition to tending to their medical needs. The Eden Alternative and Green House initiatives are great example of organizations helping to drive this resident-centered philosophy and way of thinking to the fore.

New Technology Impacts Care
At the same time, technology is now ripe to bring modern convenience and sophistication into the nursing home experience. Technology with numerous web and entertainment capabilities is now available at the bedside.

Remote physician presence is now a reality in faraway regions of many states thanks to telemedicine technologies. This brings medical expertise to areas where it was not previously available, which sometimes required residents in those areas to travel many miles to see certain specialists–if that was an option or possibility. Innovation and new technologies will continue to help usher us into this new era of care.

The great news for Louisville and Kentucky is that we have a head start when it comes to aging care, an increasingly vital part of the healthcare continuum. We are fortunate to have many leading aging-care companies, a thriving and close-knit healthcare community, educational resources, and the logistics infrastructure to achieve our full potential.

It is an honor to be considered the aging-care capital of the nation and eventually the world, we hope. Others are taking note, as recent articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times highlighted the aging-care movement that starts in Louisville.

It all adds up to one massive economic boon to the state. And with properly-aligned incentives, I believe we will only continue to expand this vision, and improve quality of life and care for our aging population.

Joe Steier is president and CEO of Signature HealthCARE.


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