It’s not easy being a public relations professional for the nursing facility industry these days. Plagued by intense media scrutiny and longstanding negative perceptions that could rival the tobacco industry’s worst days, long term and post-acute care providers are getting a bum rap, according to Bob Van Dyk, chair of the American Health Care Association (AHCA). 

Bob Van Dyk

“We need to change that,” he told attendees during an impassioned speech at AHCA’s recent annual meeting. “It’s time to shake things up.” Van Dyk’s declarations reflect his devotion to a profession that he grew up with. His father owned and operated two nursing facilities for many years before Van Dyk took over and grew the company into a continuum of services that include seniors housing; assisted living; and rehab, home, and nursing care.

“Because the pubic doesn’t understand the important work we do, they don’t value us, nor do they fully appreciate the quality care we provide,” he says, noting that providers understand their residents like none other—“not hospitals, not academes, not politicians in Washington.”

This belief has fueled Van Dyk’s efforts to launch an image campaign aimed at “changing deeply rooted perceptions about the long term and post-acute care industry.” If approved, the endeavor will mark a first for the organization.  “We’ve never approached something like this on such a large scale,” says Van Dyk.

The timing for such an undertaking is certainly ripe. With many provisions of the health care reform law not yet implemented, AHCA hopes to get a seat at the table with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as they draft rules and regulations that guide how components of the new law are put into practice.

Greg Crist, AHCA vice president of public affairs, concurs with Van Dyk’s suggestion that the public doesn’t understand what providers do every day. He says that if a campaign gets a green light, it will certainly include an education campaign that “raises awareness of what caregivers do every day.”

But altering public perception will not happen immediately, he stresses. “When you look back at successful image and branding campaigns through the years, from milk to pork and diamonds to medicines, they all shared certain commonalities,” he says.  “Chief among them was the fact they were multi-year efforts with considerable resources dedicated, recognizing that perceptions would not change overnight.”

Van Dyk believes that providers are not going to be successful in areas of reimbursement, survey, or regulatory reform until the image of the profession is changed. “We’re no longer the nursing homes of the ‘50s," he says. "We’re providers of excellent care that help people get better and get home. And we need to have our story told.”

He contends that long term and post-acute care providers are the most efficient and effective health care providers in the continuum. “We have devoted our lives to understanding the needs of an aging population and the care they need and deserve,” Van Dyk says.

An image campaign is not simply about spending dollars to convince the public that the industry is good, Van Dyk adds. “You have to be good, and you have to be deserving of that image.” ​