Scott Tittle used to say that assisted living was hiding in plain sight.

“The reality is, more people have begun to actually see us amidst COVID,” however, the National Center for Assisted Living executive director told those attending the Thursday general session of the American Health Care Association / NCAL Annual Convention & Expo, held virtually this year due to the pandemic.

Sometimes being visible can lead to good things. In the case of the pandemic, for instance, it has led to federal financial relief, testing and vaccine priority in the battle against COVID-19.

But such things often come with strings attached, including increased scrutiny. And in a state-regulated industry such as assisted living, the possibility of increased federal oversight comes with that scrutiny.

With more eyes on the industry, Tittle told operators, “It is of utmost importance that you continue to demonstrate the high-quality care.”

“Care” is a word that used to be deliberately avoided by senior living providers, even just a few years ago. In a hospitality-focused industry, “services” was the word used to describe what operators provided to residents.

But as NCAL Board of Directors Chair Helen Crunk pointed out in her remarks during the same session, one lesson the industry has learned from the pandemic is that “having a strong ability to provide clinical care inside our assisted living communities is more important now than ever.

“Molding our social model with our medical model in our communities is vital,” she said. “And continuing to fight for the resources we need to provide the best care possible, pandemic or not, should and will remain our top priority.”

As Tittle noted, “this virus does not discriminate between care settings.”

In a post-pandemic environment, assisted living operators could see clinical, regulatory, legal and other changes, he said. Both he and Crunk advocated for action over passivity.

“Let’s not wait and see what happens to us and then adapt,” Tittle said, purposefully repeating sentiments from his speech at last year’s convention, saying they ring true even more this year. “Let’s not be bystanders to the evolution occurring in our space. Let us be the ones who drive it.”

Crunk, who vowed to continue to fight to keep regulation at the state level, said that despite everything that has occurred during the pandemic, including a “horrible” shortage of supplies, “I have never been more encouraged.”

“Everyone had a choice to either cower to this virus or become better because of it,” she said. “We chose to become better because of it. We chose to be in charge of our future, not sit back and see what happens.”

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