It is hard to believe it’s been 15 months since the last Ecap- probably the longest 15 months in history where every hour felt like a day and every day like a week. As an industry, it has probably been the most trying time we have experienced. Our facilities were devastated by COVID – from fatalities, negative media and a lot of pointing fingers at the long-term care industry. Honestly- I think that’s what made Ecap 2021 so special. We took off our masks, took a deep sigh and welcomed each other after a year of isolation. As always, Ecap felt like a celebration- this year even more so. As it has become my “tradition,” I like to recap my five takeaways from this year’s event:

#1. Staffing remains the greatest challenge- Every time we think staffing can’t get worse, it does. Across the board, urban and rural providers alike feel the biggest hurdle we are facing as an industry is a lack of staffing. Operators need to get creative and look at ways to increase staff retention in addition to recruitment.

#2. Compliance needs to be taken seriously. I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion titled “In the Line of Fire.” I think the overriding theme was make sure your compliance program is operational and robust. As the market changes, our patient population will become more clinically complex and more sophisticated. We must have systems in place to be reactive versus proactive. In addition, following this year of COVID, it is anticipated that governmental scrutiny will increase

#3. Stay Regional- The long-term care market is thriving despite a year of hardship. While the senior housing market has come to a virtual halt, the panel of experts were surprised by the amount of acquisition activity they saw and continue to see in the LTC marketplace. A clear message by the various experts on the panel was the importance of maintaining regional expertise in your portfolio. Its critical to understand the regulatory and cultural environment you are operating in.

#4. Turn negative press into positive press- LTC was very much the media focus during COVID and it wasn’t pretty. The message remains clear- lets make lemons out of lemonade. While our industry has media attention, use it to our advantage. Let’s get in front of politicians, community and media and show them all the GOOD this industry has been doing- feature the positive and change the narrative.

#5. Census Rebuilding. The industry has suffered a dramatic hit in census. Will and when will census come back? The panel consensus varied but the common theme was using this time to regroup- upgrade your buildings, reenergize your staff and prepare for a more complex patient population.

My greatest takeaway is that we are all part of a community and that community stuck together as a united front during this past year. It was not each man for himself but a community of providers who worked together and were truly the unsung heroes of the pandemic.

Here’s to a year of quiet, health, growth and prosperity!