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Argentum, ASHA, LeadingAge, NARA and NCAL have formed the Quality Assisted Living Collaborative.

Four national associations advocating for assisted living providers are joining with the National Association for Regulatory Administration to develop guidance for the industry and resources for operators, regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders.

The effort involving Argentum, the American Seniors Housing Association, LeadingAge and the National Center for Assisted Living was announced Tuesday.

The groups, working together as the Quality in Assisted Living Collaborative, first are turning their attention to the area of infection prevention and control, an issue brought to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recommendations already are being developed and are expected to be released later this year after they are approved by the collaborative.

They’ll join several other existing efforts, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Project Firstline training program for infection control and prevention, a certification for infection prevention and control professionals via the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, and even an infection prevention and control document produced by Argentum during the pandemic. Other than the Argentum document, however, most of those efforts are not focused on assisted living, and they are not strictly guidance.

And assisted living is an area where such focus is needed, according to a study published in December 2022 in JAMDA – The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. That research found that infection control and preparedness in assisted living during the pandemic was hampered in part by limited clinical expertise and medical oversight of staff members and conflicting regulations and guidance for federal, state and local health agencies.

And in memory care settings, according to a study published in the June 2022 edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, a need exists “to bolster infection prevention capacity when caring for this especially vulnerable population.” 

Beyond infection control, the QALC “will likely explore a number of aspects of assisted living over time,” ASHA President and CEO David Schless said in a statement. The work “will help the sector collaboratively address the most urgent issues,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan predicted.

The initiative ultimately could lead to greater consistency across the states, Argentum President and CEO James Balda said. “By working together, we will put the industry in a position to play a lead role in reshaping the way in which assisted living communities operate,” he said.

Part of the associations’ advocacy efforts in the past have been focused on keeping the regulation of the assisted living industry at the state level, which “encourages innovation and diversity of care models that promote customized care to each resident,” NCAL Executive Director LaShuan Bethea said.

“Where the QALC can assist is equipping states and providers with the latest guidance, so that assisted living can continue to evolve and deliver high-quality care,” she added.

The formation of the QALC comes about three years after NCAL, ASHA and LeadingAge sought “a more collaborative relationship” between the four major associations representing senior living to work on guidelines for the industry.

The associations’ quest followed Argentum’s successful application to the American National Standards Institute in 2019 to be an accredited developer of voluntary senior living industry standards. NCAL, ASHA and LeadingAge, however, maintained that the standards process should be driven by consensus or that the existence of ANSI standards could put senior living organizations at risk of being sued or could lead to federal regulation. Some of the organizations also believed that association-level quality efforts were appropriate alternatives to ANSI standards.

In a statement in February 2020, Balda also said that Argentum wanted “to identify a collaborative path forward for the development of industry best practices, among other opportunities.”

Now, NARA Board President Alfred C. Johnson said, “Building a set of best practices will modernize the senior living industry, making it easier for providers to deliver on the promise of high-quality caregiving outside of an institutional setting. This effort is a great step forward and will bring senior living communities and the residents they serve a powerful set of common principles to build on for years to come.”