By Pam McDonald
Foresight Radio Host Pam McDonald explores the origin and value to the industry of National Assisted Living Week, September 11-17, 2021. First she interviews Helen Crunk, Board Chair with the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL). Following are some takeaways from that portion of the interview. You can listen to the entire interview here.
Helen: Assisted Living Week started in 1995 by the National Center for Assisted Living. It’s a great opportunity for residents, their loved ones, our staffs, and the community to come together to just honor the role of the assisted living profession and the role that assisted living plays in caring for our seniors in America. We try to celebrate every day, but it’s the one week that’s totally focused on the assisted living profession, honoring those caregivers and residents that we serve.
The Theme for The Week
The 2021 theme is Compassion, Community, and Caring to honor the resilience of the individuals who have played such a prominent role in the lives of our residents. Over this last year, it’s been hard on everyone in the healthcare profession. So, it’s about honoring those individuals who have served our residents and become their family.
We choose the word “compassion” to really focus on our caregivers and the care they have given over the last year. The compassion they’ve shown to each other has been truly amazing. I’ve seen teams come together and come out of this pandemic stronger than they were before.
“Community” we choose because it takes a community within our facilities and it takes the outside community with the families, the pastors, and other individuals supporting us.
“Care” is just really all about what we do in assisted living. Individual companies and communities develop their own celebrations for the week, and I have seen some amazing things in the past. NCAL has an annual awards program, “Program of the Year”, that communities can apply for during our annual convention in the fall. I can’t begin to tell you all the amazing things I’ve seen, but it really focuses on bringing the residents, the staff, and the families together.
Making These Events Special
There are all kinds of great ideas out there. Some that we put together, such as creating miniature flowerpot gardens with small pots, soils, and seeds. Residents paint those pots, and then they can give them to a staff member they really appreciate or maybe they give them to their neighbor, a fellow resident.
They can trace their hand, cut that out, and add a decoration so they can give those virtual hugs or hugs from a distance. They can paint rocks with kind phrases. You know, everybody’s struggled, and everybody’s stressed right now. The more compassion we can show through little acts of kindness is great.
That’s a great idea for residents to be able to show appreciation to other residents as well. They are not only supported by the staff, but they were also absolutely supported by each other. They got each other through this pandemic.
Communities can collaborate with local schools, pastors, and churches to do some outdoor performances. Staff “dress up days” and dance contests are always a big hit. Staff loves different theme days. And that’s one of the fun things about National Assisted Living Week. There is a theme for the week, but every day can be a different activity.
Assisted Living Week Helps with Advocacy
Organizing awards nights, I think is great for the residents, the staff, and volunteers who have had an impact on our residents. Honoring those individuals is a great way to bring the community together. Inviting our state, national, and any of our local representatives to be a part of the event is huge.
It helps with our advocacy efforts. It shows elected officials what we really do and the importance of the assisted living role within the long-term care profession. I really encourage people to include their local officials in their celebrations of National Assisted Living Week.
It truly helps. They need to see our residents, who are still their constituents. They vote and are very active members of their community. It’s important for us to keep them connected to that outside world.
Resources Are Available
The National Center for Assisted Living is a tremendous resource for all assisted living providers. They do so much work, not only setting the theme every year. They have an entire website that’s dedicated to this celebration.
NALW gives programming ideas. It has press release ideas, and media kits. We can purchase products, like graphics or t-shirts for the staff or residents and families. Just about anything you can think of to make this week successful. The National Center for Assisted Living does all of that work for us.
You click on the website and it’s all right there at your fingertips. They do a great job of helping us get the word out. We can promote and really maximize on the life people are living in assisted living communities. They are thriving.
Assisted Living Week is the same week every year. It always kicks off annually on Grandparent’s Day, which this year is Sunday, September 12th. [Next year it begins September 11, 2022.] Primarily this is a time to showcase our profession, to highlight our caregivers: their work, their resilience, the care they provide. This last year has been extremely tough on everyone. We’ve always considered ourselves to be family members to our residents, but we really became their family this past year when, unfortunately, they couldn’t feel, touch, or hug their loved ones.
Foresight Radio Host Pam McDonald continues the conversation about Assisted Living Week with Sally Michael, director of California Assisted Living Association. They discussed how professional and lobbying associations can use politician visits to help move the industry’s agendas forward. Read some takeaways below; listen to the entire episode here.
SALLY: Let me start with just a little bit about CALA, the California Assisted Living Association. We’re a membership-based organization with about 670 members that provide assisted living, memory care, or continuing care. An additional 150 members do business with assisted living providers.
Preserving this Innovative, Consumer-Driven Model of Care
Central to our mission is advocating with policymakers in both the legislative and the administrative branches of government on behalf of our members, as well as the people they are serving in their communities. A foundational underlying tenent of all of our advocacy is to preserve this innovative, consumer-focused model of care.
And it’s really when policymakers have a good understanding of what our members do that they can craft and implement better rules that ultimately lead to better outcomes. So, big picture, that’s why it’s really important that policymakers see firsthand what it is assisted living providers do every day.
When you think about what legislators must do every day, they’ve got tough jobs. There’s a range of issues they’re dealing with. Right now, of course there’s the pandemic, wildfires, drought, education, and energy issues. Again, tough, tough job. And it’s really difficult to grasp an issue when you don’t have firsthand understanding of or exposure to it.
That’s why it’s so important to invite legislators into our communities. So, they can see assisted living firsthand; see the variety of services, the approaches. the different physical environments. It really helps them understand the policy issues they’re faced with.
Options for Services and Approaches
I mean, just think about the diversity of services under that residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFE) umbrella, whether it is a traditional assisted living, dedicated memory care, continuing care retirement, or, even further down the distinctions, the small six-bed home. We’ve got larger purpose-built communities where providers are serving a relatively independent resident, as well as those for the end of life, supported by hospice. You must see it to fully appreciate it.
One of the things our members have had great success with for Assisted Living Week is hosting Town Halls, so residents have an opportunity to talk with policymakers and policymakers really get a good understanding of who is living in these communities. And again, see the breadth of the residents, their experiences, and interests.
A Visit Tells A Story Like Nothing Else
Operators have a strong constituency base right in that assisted living community, both the residents, as well as all the staff members. So, it’s a great time for officials to meet with their constituents, to hear firsthand what’s going on. You want to tour that legislator or policymaker through your community so they can see what’s happening on a day-to-day basis. As they walk through, they see everything else that’s going on: the activities, the meals, the care that’s being provided. That tells a story like nothing else.
Perhaps that legislator is interested in a particular subject, senior scams, as an example. Maybe he or she wants to talk to your residents about how to protect themselves. Or maybe that policymaker wants to do a kind of focus group. What do you folks think about this? What do you think about that? I mean, it’s really an opportunity for that give and take, that back and forth, to get to know each other.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate. You just bring your folks together in an activity room or into your dining room. The legislators come in, they talk, they go back and forth with residents. They’ll typically have staffers with them to help facilitate things. The assisted living community would want to be working with that legislator’s district staff. We have a whole host of materials on our website (http://caassistedliving.org) about hosting legislators and bringing them into your community.
A Relationship-Building Process
You don’t have to have heavily researched current legislation in their area, but obviously the more informed people are the better. This is really more than anything, a relationship-building process. As CALA undertakes their advocacy efforts in the Capitol, this is the kind of thing that builds that relationship, that trust, that understanding. Then we can be more effective advocating on our member’s behalf because the people we’re talking to have a better understanding.
I mean, it’s one thing for us just to talk about what our members do and how perhaps a piece of legislation might impact people, but when they’ve seen it, when they’ve touched it, when they felt it, it makes a huge difference in that understanding.
Meeting the Challenges of Covid
This year it’s been part of advocacy efforts to help people understand exactly what’s going on in our communities and the extraordinary efforts made to mitigate COVID-19. I think about, as a society, what we had to do and how we had to switch on a dime. That’s amplified in our assisted living communities.
Rules were changing. Best practices were changing. Things were moving very, very quickly and folks were responding in just amazing ways. From the folks who were developing policies and protocols for their individual communities to the companies that were implementing those on a daily basis to protect residents. It’s just been really inspiring. I’ve been in this role for over 20 years now. I admire what our members do every single day. Looking back over the past year-and-a-half, I am just in awe.
In fairness, the general population, as well as policymakers, have much greater exposure to healthcare than to senior living. So, your natural response when you hear about residential care or a licensed setting is to default to what you know, and typically healthcare is what they know.
While we have residents who may be receiving health-related care within our settings, it’s their home. Helping policymakers understand that is critical. And that policy decisions need to be made within that framework, with that understanding.
Assisted Living Is Built on Relationships
We’ve talked about legislators here in Sacramento, but it’s also locals. Your county supervisors, your mayor, those local folks are also critically important. Sometimes those are the folks who are going to end up a few years down the road in the legislature. So, build those relationships as broadly as you possibly can.
It may sound a little intimidating at first, but once you do it, you realize how much fun hosting elected officials is. We host events all the time. It might have a little different spin to it, but it’s fun. People are excited to be there. Residents are excited to welcome policymakers into their homes. So just dip your toe in the water and do it.
We ask our members to inform us about relationships they have with legislators, so as CALA visits them and talks about specific policy issues, we can remind them of the folks back in their districts they know. Sometimes it’s those personal relationships that can really make a difference.
In everything we do that’s what senior living is really all about, those relationships. Whether you’re a caregiver or a bus driver or an executive director, it’s those relationships that really are the glue of our communities. And that’s the same thing inside as well as outside.