George W., Humorist
By Richard L. Peck, Editor
Whatever President George W. Bush’s attributes might be, I haven’t noticed a sense of humor being one of them. At least, I can’t recall anything funny he’s said (although how he’s said it might be another story, if Saturday Night Live is any indication). Recently, though, there was an exception. When The New York Times reported in February the findings from a federal government study that more than 90% of nursing homes are understaffed, and that the price tag for bringing them up to speed would be nearly $8 billion a year (see “NH News Notes,” p. 8), the President wasted no time in responding: It was too soon, he said, to impose staffing requirements on nursing homes-pause for industry cheer-but “nurse staffing levels may simply increase due to the market demand created by an informed public.”

Reading that gave me the best laugh of the day (and it was a pretty funny day, too). It was uninformed, unreal and, well, so baby boomer of him: If we demand it, it will be there.

I would put the question to businessman George W. Bush (as he was in a previous incarnation): If your main customer (in this case Medicaid) insisted on paying a discount rate so low your costs weren’t covered, would you like to have more such customers? Wouldn’t your market incentive be to get as far away from that type of customer as possible? Perhaps one could dilute one’s product on the grounds that “you get what you pay for,” but this is one field where the dishonor and disgrace attendant to that would (or should) be unthinkable.

One answer for nursing homes might be to convince their customers to pony up that extra $8 billion, i.e., pay more taxes-but George W. is not as dumb as portrayed on Saturday Night Live, i.e., this won’t happen anytime soon, if ever, on his watch.

On the other hand, when it comes to his seriously addressing the dire straits of today’s long-term care, American Health Care Association Chairwoman Mary K. Ousley probably said it best. Quoting the President’s “market demand” comment at a meeting of the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordinators, she said, “President Bush has got to be smarter than that.”

One would hope so. Sometimes laughter isn’t such a wonderful thing. NH

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