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White House Waste of Time

February 1, 2006
by RICHARD L. PECK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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    There was a time when the conference had a definite cachet. For attendees, it meant that the President had all but invited them personally to present their views, would listen to them respectfully, and might even act on their ideas. And the first White House Conferences did produce results-how about Medicare, the Older Americans Act, and the advent of a host of federal government agencies and senior advocacy groups as evidence?

Things have devolved a bit in recent years (see Michael Stoil's View on Washington). The decline had nothing to do with the quality of the participants. Those who assembled in Washington this past December included the best and the brightest of today's aging-related policy specialists and providers. And long-term care, specifically, was more powerfully represented than ever, having developed its own set of wide-ranging, in-depth recommendations at an April preconference (see "Warning Signs for the White House," Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management, October 2005).

Moreover, it would be inaccurate to state that nothing exciting transpired at this year's conference. The assistive technology exhibits sponsored by CAST (AAHSA's Center for Aging Services Technologies) offered, in some cases, spectacular hope for people wishing to safely "age in place" in their homes. (Some of the thinking behind this can be found in "Technology Assist: The LTC Market's Cutting-Edge Demand," Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management, December 2005).

So, what was the problem? Actually, there were two problems.

First, the conference boiled down to votes up or down on recommendations carefully crafted by the White House, with little extemporary discussion allowed. Not that this stopped some attendees from taking vigorous swipes at Social Security privatization and Medicare Part D. But the general feeling was that this year's conference proceedings were unlikely to be viewed as "must reading" by today's powers-that-be. Considering the relative energy and creativity that went into the technology exhibits, some observers wondered whether assistive technology was, in itself, being held forth as the long-term care policy for the future. You've got to admit, after all, that it doesn't demand much in the way of creative government involvement.

Second, the powers-that-be turned out to be no-shows. Even as the distinguished attendees gathered (figuratively speaking) at George W. Bush's eponymous White House, this most stage-managed of Presidents was journeying to a nearby retirement community to sell Medicare Part D to a few well-chosen "friends." He had no message for the conferees-in fact, he didn't even phone one in.

Meanwhile, as the attendees offered as one of their "top 10" recommendations enhanced federal support for geriatric education and training for workers in the field, Congress was busily slashing all such funding before heading out for the holidays and safe havens from the Abramoff lobbying scandal.

One thing you can say about democracy: When the government screws up, that means we've all screwed up. Maybe we can't command the 70%-plus turnouts the Iraqis have become accustomed to, but it seems that in this election year, we can do better. Official negligence and meaningless posing are long-term care "policies" we can't afford to indulge in anymore. That goes for Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Blues, Reds, and Libertarians alike.

To comment on this editorial, please send e-mail to peck0206@nursinghomesmagazine.com.

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