As far as we can tell, this is the first time that so many key individuals from across the country were gathered together in one room for one day to talk about this issue

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

Less than two weeks ago, nearly 40 movers, shakers and thought leaders involved in senior and assisted living gathered together at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois, for a landmark summit on affordable assisted living.

As far as we can tell, this is the first time that so many key individuals from across the country were gathered together in one room for one day to talk about this issue, Rod Burkett, CEO and President of Gardant Management Solutions, told me as he reflected on his impressions of the summit.

Rod and Gardant spearheaded the summit, which was designed to create a national conversation about models for assisted living for seniors who cannot afford many of the assisted living options that currently are available in the United States.

Participants included the –

CEO of the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA)

CEO of the American Senior Housing Association (ASHA)

CEO of the National Investment Center (NIC)

Board Chair of the Center for Excellence in Assisted Living (CEAL)

Executive Director of the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL)

Executive Director of the Affordable Assisted Living Coalition (AALC)

Also participating in the summit were representatives from the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities (NASUAD) and the National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) as well as developers, operators and representatives of financing sources and managed care organizations.

What sparked the idea for the summit was a combination of our experience here in Illinois and what we see going on nationally and in other states, Rod explained.

Nationally, we are facing the greying of America, with a tsunami of Baby Boomers aging into their retirement years. The focus is on delivering quality health care in the lowest cost and least restrictive setting possible.

Assisted living can offer a wonderful residential alternative to a nursing home and can be much less expensive than nursing home care, says Rod. Assisted living also can be less expensive than home health care. Yet, there is no comprehensive national plan for assisted living.

At the state level, we are fortunate in the State of Illinois to have the Supportive Living program.

Wayne Smallwood, who is the Executive Director of the Affordable Assisted Living Coalition (AALC), spoke about the program during his presentation at the summit on Medicaid Options for Assisted Living. Wayne served as Co-Chair for the summit.

Supportive Living communities combine apartment-style housing with personal assistance and support services such as three-daily meals, housekeeping and laundry. We are able to provide older adults who need some help to maintain their independence with the love, compassion and dignity they deserve in addition to the help and assistance they need, Rod says.

Summit participants commented that the Supportive Living program is a “perfect model” for affordable assisted living.

The program has grown so that there are now more than 140 communities located in more than 70 counties throughout the Illinois. Together, these communities house nearly 11,000 apartments.

Unfortunately, while most other states have a Medicaid option for assisted living, there inevitably are obstacles that are very difficult or impossible to overcome. Reimbursement rates are way too low; there are not enough Medicaid waiver slots available; and the processes for the community to be approved to serve Medicaid residents and for seniors to be approved for Medicaid and assigned a Medicaid-waiver slot take way too long.

“We had great discussion about the accessibility and affordability issues of assisted living for low and moderate income seniors and about what needs to be done next,” Rod says.

The participants talked about this being an “issue whose time has come” and how it will be “one of the biggest issues that our country will face in the next 10 to 20 years.”

The ideas include defining what affordable assisted living is for the low income and the middle income market and what the key characteristics of successful affordable assisted living models are; becoming part of healthcare reform; identifying payment sources beyond Medicaid and Medicare; and showing how affordable assisted living can slow down the spend down of assets by older adults.

A much stronger political advocacy and educational effort also is needed.

“We recognize this was step one,” Rod said. “As the first step of converting our discussion to action, the Summit Steering Committee during the coming weeks will be establishing work groups to move forward on the steps we need to take.”

All affordable assisted living communities managed by Gardant Management Solutions are certified and surveyed by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. All assisted living communities are licensed and surveyed by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Gardant Management Solutions is the leading provider of assisted living in Illinois and one of the 20 largest providers of assisted living in the United States.”

This article was first posted on the BMA Blog Website: