In Memory: Dr. Robert Kane

Dr. Robert L. Kane, internationally renowned physician, geriatrician, researcher, author, educator, and Chair of Long-Term Care and Aging at the University of Minnesota, passed away unexpectedly on Monday at the age of 77. It is impossible to capture in just a few sentences Dr. Kane’s inestimable impact on long term care policy and practice in the United States, and abroad and right here in our own backyard. 

Long before “value based reimbursement” became a thing, his was the first voice I ever heard advocating linking payment to outcomes, and his was the foundational work on Minnesota’s nation-leading nursing home report card – particularly the importance of measuring customer satisfaction and quality of life. His was the voice calling us  to do better, to think more originally about how to combine housing with clinical care and service supports in a way that supported every day living. 

Sometimes controversial and often provocative, Bob didn’t sugarcoat what he viewed as the shortcomings of today’s system of services and supports, and he never stopped striving to improve it. His simple but profound mantra for action and accountability was “good care matters.

I reflect on the way in which he tirelessly pursued research in support of that good care, generously recognized the contributions of others in this quest, enthusiastically engaged in the work of the Leadership Council on Aging and the Minnesota Gerontological Society, shared his knowledge and expertise with generations of students and aging services leaders – and was always open to a credibly argued countervailing opinion to his own.

Throughout his career, Bob worked at the intersection of medical and social models of care and believed strongly that quality of life should not have to be sacrificed for quality of care. Writing in The Heart of Long Term Care, a book co-authored with his beloved wife and co-researcher, Dr. Rosalie Kane, and Richard Ladd, he wrote, “people who need care will make decisions with their care needs in mind, but their lives should not be held hostage to their need for care.”

His quest to have us re-imagine and re-design long term care was something he worked on literally to the very last day via an effort he called the LTC Re-think Tank. Even now, as you read this, a bill continuing this work with a statewide effort is working its way through the legislative process. 

Many of us were blessed to know this passionate, intellectual giant of man well enough to experience not only his brilliance, but also his kindness –  his giving spirit and keen sense of humor. If indeed, “the highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude,” we are grateful beyond words for Robert Kane.

Funeral service will take place on Thursday, March 9 at 10:30 a.m. at Adath Jershurun Congregation, 1500 Hillside Lane W, Minnetonka. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Long-Term Care Re-Think Tank, the newly-established Kane Scholarship Fund at the Minnesota Gerontological Society, Planned Parenthood or the American Civil Liberties Union. Shiva will be at the family residence on Sunday and Monday at 7 p.m. 

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