Editor’s note: As part of the 40th anniversary of McKnight’s, McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News are recognizing 40 notable newsmakers. Each week, the brands will highlight a new, high-profile leader from the past four decades. Previously published installments of the series are posted here.

When pivotal programs are put into place, it becomes easy to forget there was a time without them.

Such could be said for the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living’s National Quality Award Program, which is designed to provide a path to performance excellence for senior living and skilled nursing providers.

Dale Thompson, the current board chair for the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society and former CEO of the Benedictine Health System, was instrumental in starting this highly respected program in the 1990s.

“His perspective on quality really has radiated through AHCA,” said Steven Chies, who served as an executive under Thompson at Benedictine and considers Thompson a “40-year friend.”

Beyond instituting change at the nation’s largest long-term care trade association, Thompson made an impact on quality in the industry in other ways. Among them: He chaired the Quality Improvement Organization in Minnesota and a veterans advisory commission established by the Gopher State governor.

During his 10-year stint at Benedictine (2003–2013), Thompson set a high bar. Among his contributions: leading the organization through a decade of positive financial performance; enabling the company to achieve three levels of recognition by the Minnesota-based Performance Excellence Network; and establishing numerous partnerships, including those with HealthEast, Allina Health, Mayo Health, Steele County and many others.

Thompson did not set out to make a name for himself in long-term care. He began his career as a math teacher. But through the United States Junior Chamber, a leadership and civic organization, he met his future business partner, Robert Sundberg, who installed Thompson as an administrator at one of his facilities. Sundberg then sold Thompson one of his facilities, and that acquisition evolved into Health Dimensions, which Benedictine later purchased.

Thompson has continued his success at Good Sam. He played a key role in the affiliation with Sanford Health and the development of the institutional special needs plan, or I-SNP, for the organization.

No doubt, quality continues to be Thompson’s guide.

“His mantra is, ‘We can’t rely on regulations to get good outcomes. We need systems to do it,’ ” Chies noted.