PHOENIX—Argentum has spent the past 18 months elevating several priorities, with senior living industry advocacy rising to the top as a critical need during the pandemic amid changing federal and state guidelines, Argentum President and CEO James Balda said Monday during the 2021 Senior Living Executive Conference & Expo. 

Some of the highlights of the association’s efforts over the past year or so, he said, included educating policymakers and other stakeholders about the senior living industry, reshaping and refocusing discussions about senior living, working with state partners and others to secure “reasonable protections” against lawsuits for providers in several states, advocating for senior living operators to be prioritized for the coronavirus vaccine, and securing COVID-19 testing kits and senior living operator eligibility for Provider Relief Fund dollars. 

But much more needs to be done, he said.

With the announcement last week of the federal government’s release of $25.5 billion in additional Provider Relief Fund monies for healthcare providers, including assisted living providers, Balda said that Argentum’s attention now turns to ensuring equitable distribution of those funds so that assisted living operators get a fair share. 

Pat Mulloy, chairman of Argentum’s board of directors, described the past 18 months as an unprecedented “time of uncertainty and fear.” Assisted living, he pointed out, was created 25 years ago as an alternative to nursing homes so people could age in place, and it remains an important part of the “buffet of healthcare services” that will only continue to grow. 

“Residential congregate care settings are not going away,” Mulloy said. “That setting is just as vital as it’s ever been.”

Thinking about the future, however, he said that the industry needs to take a “serious look” at self-regulation “to combat the potential of burdensome and onerous” regulations. This effort, Mulloy said, means supporting and validating providers that operate at the highest level, achieve strong quality outcomes and meet best practices for providing quality care.

“The path forward has never been more important or more necessary,” Mulloy said. “COVID-19 has shown that the industry still, after 25 years, is largely misunderstood, and federal regulation will likely be mostly misguided.”

The burden of the industry, he said, is to become “better, stronger, more outspoken advocates and educators” about what senior living does, and what occurs within communities.

As discussions continue on Capitol Hill about infrastructure, Mulloy said, Argentum is making the case for investment in human infrastructure through the SENIOR (Safeguarding Elderly Needs for Infrastructure and Occupational Resources) Act, passage of which would increase the ranks of professional caregivers and create a sustainability fund to keep the doors open for communities struggling financially. 

Balda said that the increased attention on the industry also presents an opportunity to influence the “most significant domestic policy debate in a generation: how to care for America’s seniors.” That opportunity will require shifting from being reactive to proactive and focusing on year-round grassroots political engagement, he said.

The CEO also announced a multi-year partnership with healthcare events and education firm HMP Global, which will acquire and manage Argentum’s annual conference. The association will continue to guide the strategic direction of program development and educational content, he said.

Having HMP handle the conference, Balda said, will enable Argentum to focus on advocacy work, educational programming and developments related to its workforce and quality initiatives. The association will announce new programs and partnerships in the coming months to provide resources for senior living leaders, he added.

Heroes Work Here celebration

Actress, author and Alzheimer’s advocate Marcia Gay Harden, whose mother died in 2018 with a diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s, led a tribute to the “heroes” of senior living, honoring caregivers. The program included a video tribute with images from senior living communities across the country.

Balda said that many of the innovative programs, technologies and designs honored during the awards program were launched during the pandemic and “will continue to influence senior living for years to come.”

2021 Best of the Best Awards

This year’s Best of the Best awards honored member companies with programs, products or services related to COVID-19 mitigation and management in senior living. Honorees:

  • Radio Recliner, Bridge Senior Living: A nationwide program that allows residents to be DJs, take phone-in requests and give dedications. 
  • PinPoint by CarePredict: Targeted COVID-19 contact tracing developed for senior living.
  • Connecting Residents During the Pandemic, Merrill Gardens: Custom-modified Google Nest Hubs designed for senior living.
  • COVID-19-Testing Dogs Pilot Program, Benton House / Principal Senior Living Group: A less-invasive way to detect COVID-19 by training dogs to sniff out cases.
  • Evergreen Woods Podcast, Senior Living Communities: Earned an honorable mention for broadcasting 65 podcast episodes sharing residents’ talents and discussions.

2021 Senior Living by Design Awards

Open to members and non-members, Argentum’s Senior Living by Design awards honor architects, design firms and senior living providers that achieve innovative architecture in senior living communities. An independent panel of judges from the architecture, design and senior living fields selected the following honorees from almost 50 nominations:

  • Azura Assisted Living and Memory Care of Brookfield at Mierow Farm, Azura Living, Brookfield, WI.
  • Brightview Grosvenor, Brightview Senior Living, North Bethesda, MD.
  • Friendship Village Schaumburg, Friendship Senior Options, Schaumburg, IL.
  • Riderwood Erickson Senior Living, Silver Spring, MD.
  • Sunrise of Old Town, Sunrise Senior Living, Alexandria, VA. 

More information on the honorees can be found in the 2021 Argentum Design Report.

Vision 2025

In other conference news, Douglas Olson, Ph.D., a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor, delivered an update on Vision 2025, a collaboration between aging services and university professionals to build 25 college-based programs offering senior services management training along with 1,000 paid internships. The committee, Olson said, is working with state executives to target universities to help develop the programs. Since 2019, interest has grown from 20 universities to 40, he said. Olson expects to distribute a director of 60 programs by year’s end. The group plans to reconvene in June 2022.

The meeting continues through Wednesday.