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Aging services needs vendors -- commercialism is just fine
Wow – twice in a week, accusations of ‘commercialism’. An epiphany – occasionally I have them. The backdrop: In Incident A, a future topic I am discussing at an aging services event was (at least temporarily) classified as ‘commercial’ versus ‘educational’ because vendor executives were to be on the panel, jeopardizing the continuing education credit that attendees might get. Then, the very next day, Incident B: a proposed slide deck was critiqued by (different) organizers with the recommendation to remove slides that had many vendor logos. Why? Because it might be perceived by sponsors as commercials for those vendors – again jeopardizing continuing education credits.
Continuing education for aging services professionals – what’s the conflict? I made a fuss in each of these examples and all may be well. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard this (mostly at events in which I present slides). What's going on with this? Think Geriatric Care Managers, geriatric social workers, nurses and case managers, home care, home health care, and on and on. Most of the folks I speak with in these industries are reluctant to mention, let alone endorse, any specific vendor for fear of ‘conflicts of interest’ accusations, actual or imagined. Sometimes these fears are contractual (as with the sponsors of their events) and sometimes they are simply quick reactions that are not cast in cement and we all move on.
There is a serious structural problem here – consider the analogies. Imagine that you are a building contractor and are working with an architect. Imagine that it is time to lay out the plans, review them and get the place built. The contractor says, logically, please provide a list of suppliers that you prefer for this job. Says the architect – oh, I can’t do that, I would be perceived as too commercial – use whoever you want. You are a surgeon and it is time to pick up your scalpel, but the nurse says that it’s not possible, because to select and name a device supplier is too commercial. And forget about mentioning device manufacturers when you’re training other surgeons – you are spreading perceptions of commercialism.
Vendors are the backbone of all services. Let us be clear: Without vendors/suppliers and service providers, there would be no services, not health, not home care, not building, not HVAC, and most especially, not aging services. All need revenue, all are paid -- even the non-profits pay salaries. Vendors pay the exhibit hall bills, they fit up the buildings with networks, they stock the spare parts, they provide the home care supplies -- you get the picture. Training professionals with continuing education credits is exactly the right place to talk about vendors. Vendors, in fact, should be top of mind when deciding on curriculum in all aging-related services programs – college, post-grad, etc. Otherwise, as happens far too often in this industry, a reluctance to learn about vendors – especially technology vendors – keeps seniors in technology darkness.