AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson speaks at a Monday press conference where he announced new workforce resources.

SAN DIEGO — Times may be challenging for long-term care providers right now, but opportunities exist to help determine the future of the industry, leaders of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living told annual meeting attendees Monday.

AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson said the present climate could be the most difficult one he has seen in his 25 years in the field.

“I’m always the calming voice that says, ‘Hey, we say that every year. This probably isn’t the toughest year. We’re going to be fine,’ ” he said during the meeting’s opening session. “But this year, I can’t really be the calming voice. I do think we’re going to be just fine, but I really do think this is our toughest time. Ever.”

Some operators are struggling in the current climate, and the future is unclear, NCAL Executive Director Scott Tittle agreed, but “there are opportunities to shape the future,” he said. Tittle cited adding ancillary services, primary care clinics, rehabilitation programs or care coordinators, or offering a Medicare Advantage plan, as approaches that some companies are taking, and he singled out Senior Housing Managers, Juniper Communities and Sunrise Senior Living for their efforts in these areas.

“Other, smaller providers in certain markets are looking into combining their efforts to create collaborative networks. I-SNPS, D-SNPs, PACE and increasing penetration of MA plans – these are exciting acronyms for operators,” Tittle said, referring to Institutional Special Needs Plans, Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans, Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly and the Medicare Advantage program.

“The common thread here is that healthcare is moving towards all types of new partnerships between many different kinds of providers,” he said. “We can no longer operate in silos.”

In the future, Tittle said, assisted living operators might establish communities that specialize in caring for people with chronic conditions. “We all know memory care is where many of us are growing,” he said, “but sadly, all major chronic conditions among seniors are expected to increase over the next decade. Could we see more communities that focus solely on Parkinson’s disease, bariatric care or diabetes?”

Expanding efforts in affordable housing also is an opportunity for the coming years, Tittle said, noting existing efforts by Gardant Management Solutions. “That means that we’ll have to become more aggressive at the state and federal levels to advocate for protecting and even strengthening Medicaid, so that more [assisted living] providers can participate,” he said.

“This is our chance to play offense,” Tittle said. “Let’s not sit idly by and wait for changes to unfold … and then determine our reaction. Let’s create the change ourselves and figure out our own path to victory.”

More than 2,500 long-term and post-acute care providers and 1,400 vendors had registered for the annual meeting, AHCA / NCAL said.

Also on Monday at the convention:

  • NCAL Chair Ashley Blankenship encouraged members to improve their company cultures where needed and to exert the same amount of energy on addressing staff satisfaction as they do on resident satisfaction.
  • At an afternoon press conference, Parkinson said the organization’s specific advocacy efforts related to immigration will depend on the outcome of the election. Immigrants are an important part of the answer to industry-wide issues related to finding and retaining workers, he said.
  • At the same media event, AHCA / NCAL unveiled new resources designed to help members attract and keep qualified caregivers and help individuals advance in their careers. The effort includes an online Workforce Resource Center with educational tools and a new partnership with long-term care training organization PHI through which additional tools — such as coaching, training and consulting — will be developed. “Our members have been clear that staffing is one of their biggest challenges,” Parkinson said.

The meeting continues through Wednesday. 

Stop by the McKnight’s booth, No. 517, during Expo Hall hours to pick up copies of the latest McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News print publications and meet staff members.

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