For the time being, it might be best to retire “progressive” from the aging services profession. The word’s use has outlived its welcome. It’s a good word, for sure, but its integrity has been compromised by overuse, mostly of the unsubstantiated sort.
Professionals in the field of aging services or long-term services and supports (LTSS) proclaim that the public’s demand for what they offer will increase dramatically and urgently as the massive generation of Boomers grow older. Yes and no. The problem is these professionals cannot navigate this self-proclaimed “silver tsunami” by simply waxing up their old wooden surfboards. As visionary R. Buckminster Fuller forewarned: “We are … accepting yesterday’s contriving as constituting the only means for solving a problem.”
For LTSS providers to become truly progressive, they should pay attention to advancements and adaptations made by successful private-sector leaders, notably Starbucks and Apple.
STARBUCKS INVESTS IN THE FUTURE
A Time magazine (2-16-15) profile of Howard Schulz noted that his company Starbucks has a “reputation as a progressive company, having been one of the first retailers in the country to offer affordable, comprehensive health care to full-time and eligible part-time employees and their families, as well as a stock-grant program (Bean Stock) for all.”
The article goes on: “Schulz says he is deeply invested in these ideas … because making the company a preferred employer helps keep turnover costs lower and service quality higher than the industry average …” It is a win-win strategy: Identify and exploit the coincidence of public good and private gain.
In aging services, certified nurse assistants, aides and other care partners are the equivalent frontline staff. These are the employees who every day walk and talk with, feed, bathe, groom and generally assist residents/patients however needed. Yet their average pay is about $12 per hour; stress levels typically are high and job satisfaction low; and the job turnover rate reflects this.
As with Starbucks, the aging-services organizations who respect all employees benefit from increases in productivity and job satisfaction; as well as a reputation as a favorite employer, which creates competitive branding, marketing and public relations opportunities.
APPLE CREATES A NEED
Apple, particularly in the Steve Jobs era, was famous for anticipating and creating mass appeal. “Apple never holds focus groups,” wrote Lev Grossman in a Time magazine piece (4-22-10) on the launch of iPad. “It doesn’t ask people what they want; it tells them what they’re going to need.”
New technology often must predict demand, which make Job’s ideas as risky as they were creative. Still, his approach is makes sense for aging services providers, whose survival depends on market uncertainties.
Can the government continue to mortgage the country’s future to support today’s generation of older adults? Will the impact of Alzheimer’s and caregiving overwhelm the healthcare system, and the economy? Can older adults be convinced of the benefits of community living (i.e. socialization, convenience, safety) over the solitude of aging-in-place?
AGING SERVICES BIDES ITS TIME
Who will step up or step back and look at thing differently? Society is getting too old too fast to hope for incremental changes. We need solutions and champions to implement them. “One hundred percent of the shots you don’t take, don’t go in,” hockey great Wayne Gretzky was fond of saying.
We need powerful policymakers at the Capitol, private-sector entrepreneurs and, even better, progressive aging services organizations to challenge the status quo and:
- Consider developing hybrid forms of long-term support and services. Versions that ideally flex the too rigid line separating facilities and homes, and one type of facility from another. If the continuum of care were to be rebuilt from scratch, for instance, might it make more sense to somehow merge assisted living with skilled nursing … with adult day healthcare?
- As naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) proliferate, aging-services organizations should embrace the NORC concept and partner with them to establish hybrid public-private continuums of care.
- A reliable and convenient form of Uber, the private car transport service, for older adults is probably right around the corner. Some distinguishing criteria should be: Drivers must be patient, comfortable helping with older adult mobility considerations, and sensitive to physical and mental health issues. At least for the next decade or so, the option of scheduling on a land-line is necessary.
In order for aging-services providers to reclaim the right to be “progressive,” there must be more action and accountability – in other words, more doing than talking and report writing. It remains up to management teams, board members and other stakeholders; consumers; and legislators whether such progress is voluntary, prompted or forced.
But it must happen. Because there isn’t anything more humanly progressive than the pursuit of healthy, purposeful longevity.