How Executive Director Certification Raises the Bar for Assisted Living

A relatively new professional certification program for assisted living executive directors has what it takes to become a nationwide industry standard, leaders throughout the sector say. In fact, some providers are already going as far as considering making it mandatory.

The Certified Director of Assisted Living (CDAL) program is an effort of the Senior Living Certification Commission, which was formed in 2015 by senior living industry association Argentum.

Since the certification’s launch last year, 333 leaders from 60 senior living providers — including Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), Five Star Senior Living (Nasdaq: FVE) and Atria Senior Living — have earned the credential.

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Furthermore, several large nationwide providers, including Harbor Retirement Associates, Merrill Gardens and Five Star have made it their goal to certify their managers and executive directors as CDALs.

The CDAL is earned through an exam meant to assess executive directors in the following areas: judgment, application of knowledge, and problem-solving skills. The questions, which are workshopped by other senior living executives, are all situational-based and multiple choice, and deal with topics such as the principles and philosophy of assisted living, resident care and services, customer experience, leadership, operations, sales, and financial management.

The test is administered at centers in all 50 states and costs between $420 and $650, depending on a provider’s Argentum membership status and the number of tests purchased at once. Not everyone can apply. Applicants who want to earn their CDAL must meet a set of requirements that includes a college degree and years of management or executive experience at an assisted living facility.

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A higher standard

One reason Argentum launched the certification was to create a higher standard for assistant living executives.

“The [CDAL] program raises the bar across the industry, allowing leaders the opportunity to earn a credential that recognizes their experience, competence, and professionalism in the executive director role,” said Loren Shook, Argentum board of directors chairman and Silverado CEO, in a July 31 statement. “It demonstrates to consumers and state regulators that the senior living industry is committed to rigorous, professional development, and self-regulation in an effort to deliver the best quality of life possible.”

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Before the certification, there wasn’t much an assisted living executive director could do to prove they were ahead of the pack, Margie Longstreth, executive director at Five Star Premier Residences of Hollywood in Hollywood, Florida, tells Senior Housing News. Longstreth was among the first executives to receive their CDALs last fall.

“This is the first official executive director certification,” she says. “If you pass the test, it says you know what you’re doing.”

In the past, many colleges and universities across the U.S. haven’t offered anything in the way of senior living-specific degrees or training programs. Though that is changing, the certification can help bridge that gap in the meantime.

Additionally, the credential helps bring assisted living in line with other senior care fields, such as skilled nursing, where certification is more standardized and sought-after.

“This is going to help every state have similar testing and requirements for people to be in the [executive director] position, just as it is with nursing home administrators,” Lisa Czolowski, CEO of nonprofit Hover Senior Living in Longmont, Colorado, tells SHN. “Once people know that they have to be licensed to hold a position… it raises the bar.”

For Wilson Anhar, executive director at The Arbor Company’s Summit of Uptown community in Park Ridge, Illinois, becoming a CDAL is something he holds close to his heart.

“You have approval from your industry and your peers,” Anhar tells SHN. “I am one of the few executive directors nationwide who have gone through this and have gotten the approval seal from the industry. It’s a great feeling.”

In the year since he’s earned his certification, Anhar has used it to better market his skills as a leader. It’s important to have a national, not just a statewide, certification, he says.

“As an industry, I think we need to do more to raise the public awareness,” he adds. “I think it should be to a point where the public will ask for it when they decide what community to put their loved one in.”

Another benefit the test offers is that it helps participants brush up on their skills and and general knowledge base.

“I learned multiple ways to be able to handle a situation or address an issue. It’s been very helpful for me to think out of the box,” says Paula Moore, executive director at Five Star’s Morningside of Fayetteville in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Written by Tim Regan

(Featured photo via Flickr.com/AlbertoGP123)

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