Argentum CEO: New Era Dawning for Senior Living Quality

As the senior living industry moves toward new, data-driven payment models and integrated health systems, quality metrics are becoming all the more essential. As a result, senior living executives are gathered to take a hard look at quality standards and set the stage for data to create more unified industry norms.

Argentum—the association of senior living providers formerly known as the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA)—Is holding its first ever Chief Executive Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, this week, with nearly 60 senior housing executives convened to discuss some of the biggest issues facing the industry.

Senior Housing News caught up with Argentum President and CEO James Balda to hear how industry leaders are looking to tackle looming challenges and what big opportunities executives are eyeing for industry reforms.

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Setting the New Standard

Senior housing providers that operate in multiple states already know that regulations vary between state lines, which can increase challenges for staff training and other compliance issues, potentially with greater expenses. The lack of universal standards can also open up the industry to a lack of credibility to the consumer, Balda argued.

“The senior living industry is regulated at the state level, which is entirely appropriate and where it should be regulated,” Balda told SHN. “Over the years, those regulatory models have differed. ..Certainly for multi-state operators, that can become problematic, but it also lends itself to gaps in terms of credibility of the state regulatory network.”

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To close some of the gaps, Argentum has undertaken an initiative to create a set of standards for the senior living industry that conveys to consumers and state regulators quality service and care to seniors. This first generation of standards, which are being reviewed at the summit this week and will be ready for adoption in early 2016, will look at consumer choice and disclosure, resident rights, resident-centered care, staff training and qualifications, programming, infrastructure, quality improvement, workforce, memory care and regulatory compliance and enforcement.

“Standards is a big opportunity for our industry,” Balda told SHN. “There is a need for identifying quality indicators to establish and capture metric around the care that is provided so we can better articulate the level of care that we’re providing to seniors.”

In the initial phase, independent, assisted living and memory care communities will “self-attest” that they meet the Phase I standards. This is the first step for what Balda says will be a “multi-year process” for Argentum to roll out these measures.

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“We undertook a standards initiative about a year ago,” said Balda. “Our board decided that the industry really needed to sort of put a market out there in terms of higher levels of care that were being provided. …Ultimately, we will start creating an evaluation mechanism so that regulators, consumers and others can be confident that the community is meeting those levels of standards.”

A Request for Reform

New industry standards could lead to reforms within state organizations, said Balda. However, the first step is working within the industry to determine how to measure and quantify quality.

“One of the things we want to try to do is get as much consistency as we can in the state regulatory models,” Balda told SHN. “The first thing is research, which is really something that we’ll begin to undertake next year.”

After determining and establishing a set of measures that the industry can rely on, senior housing leaders and advocates like Argentum could leverage these initiatives on a state policy level.

There are other regulatory advances that Argentum is taking on as well that will be discussed at the summit with industry leaders, Balda told SHN. One area of particular concern among executives is the senior housing workforce.

“On the workforce development side, one of the things the industry needs to think about and get behind is the notion of creating more awareness around senior living as a potential career option for workers,” Balda told Senior Housing News. “We’re competing with the retail sector, certainly with hospitality, restaurants. So, how do we create awareness of senior living as a career option for folks?”

Balda explained that the industry will need roughly 1.1 million additional workers over the next 10 years. Indeed, some providers may already be feeling the sting of a workforce shortage in an industry marked by high turnover rates among staff.

“Right now, operators are already starting to feel the struggle of finding talent and keeping talent,” said Balda. “Anything we can do in the short term to raise awareness around senior living as a career option is going to be critical. Longer term, we need to work with state governors to help them better understand the need for creating a direct care workforce in their states.”

Senior housing executives are looking at opportunities for training an incoming workforce within the state level through colleges and universities and other local programs. Some also have their sights set on immigration reform, which could bring in an influx of foreign health care workers, said Balda. A first step toward reaching these short- and long-term goals is understanding retention metrics, a similar approach to determining quality standards.

“Ultimately, we want to define retention in the industry and establish a metric we can use to quantify it,” said Balda. “We need a common definition from a strong number of operators that we can use and have operators report on so that we can have a baseline of what the retention is in the industry and then work from there to improve it.”

Written by Amy Baxter

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