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Just one more question

September 1, 2009
by Gary Tetz
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Like the great TV detective Columbo, Long-Term Living columnist Gary Tetz (Funny You Should Ask) always has one more question. In this bimonthly feature, he talks with long-term care leaders about anything that pops into his mind. He's as surprised as you are that they'll speak to him, and apologizes in advance for whatever inanity he might blurt out in the pressure of the moment.

When I found myself emaciated and alone outside a shuttered dot-com in the winter of 2005, it was Richard Peck who showed a little pity. “Gary, we notice you don't have a job,” he said. “Would you be willing to rebuild your shattered confidence by creating a bimonthly column for Nursing Homes magazine in which you describe in excruciating detail a mundane and/or humiliating personal experience and somehow peripherally connect it to the long-term care profession?” Or words to that effect.

When he put it that way, how could I say no? But while I'm still finding ways to embarrass myself in print four years later, Richard is leaving his post to edit a magazine called Behavioral Healthcare-which is what I'll need a lot of to deal with the pre-existing abandonment issues his departure is sure to inflame.

Richard has been an editor/writer for healthcare publications for 36 years. He took the helm of Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management (now Long-Term Living) in 1991, doubling both its audience and frequency over his 18-year tenure as editor-in-chief. A 1964 graduate of Yale University, he spent three years in the U.S. Army before starting his journalistic career.

Against his better judgment, he agreed to one final, on-the-record conversation, and spoke to me by phone from his Cleveland, Ohio office.

Hello, Richard.

This is an odd turnaround I must say.

Well, you still have some clout here. You don't have to subject yourself to this.

True.

I think it's a good idea though. How's everything going?

As you know, I'm transitioning into another publication, called Behavioral Healthcare, and publishing ain't what it used to be. It's so much more complicated with the online edition and the overall scheme of things. So yeah, a little busy.

I didn't even know you were leaving. But when Maureen [Hrehocik, Long-Term Living's new Editor] started editing my columns, I began to get suspicious.

You thought I'd changed my name or had a gender change operation?

Exactly. Do you want this interview to be just a slight grilling or a full-on roast?

The nice thing is it's not live, and we can edit. So ask away and see what happens.

What about journalistic integrity? I think yours should be the first one we don't edit at all.

Oh great.

Remind me how you got started in long-term care journalism?

I became editor of a magazine called Geriatrics back in 1982. They were moving the publication from New York City to Cleveland, and none of the staff wanted to move here. I transitioned to Nursing Homes magazine [now Long-Term Living] in 1991. At the time, the magazine was a bimonthly going to about 24,000 subscribers. Over the next few years, we doubled the circulation and became a monthly, now going to about 50,000.

Of course, in the historical timeline of the magazine, wouldn't you want to highlight the dramatic uptick in circulation and advertising dollars that occurred when I started writing in 2005?

Right. Yes. It was a complete turnaround. Onward and upward.

So you're still in Cleveland. You went for the job, but stayed for the weather.

Yes, the weather is a significant drawback, but really, we like the town a great deal. It has many offerings that are not well known throughout the country, which is fine because we don't want people moving here and ruining things.

Why did you end up sticking with long-term care?

I thought it was a fascinating story, from a journalistic standpoint. Here you had this field providing necessary services to a vulnerable population 24/7, but struggling every day to get recognition and combat a negative reputation just to get basic funding. Since then [the early 1990s], it has been a constant battle for this very necessary and well-meaning but devalued profession.

Obviously there have been people who abused the field, who did not provide the quality they should have and were in it just for the money. And they blackened the field's reputation, starting back with the Senate investigations in the early 1970s. I don't think the field has ever gotten over the fallout from that period. Yet they soldier on providing more caring, sophisticated, and quality services, despite total lack of recognition.

All within a bad system.

A terrible financial system, which no one knows about.

How did the system get so messed up? You were there, why didn't you do something?

[Chuckling] I've been trying! I've been working hard for 18 years to fix everything! And then I come to the end of my tenure here, and I see Senate finance committee chairman Max Baucus [D-Mont.] coming out with his long-term care plan. Total regulation, total punishment-a total “watch out for these money-grubbing people” type of thing. That's their idea of long-term care reform. So I figure I've really had no impact whatsoever!

So you decided to step down and serve the profession in a different way. Is Sarah Palin your career advisor?

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