The Joint Commission has launched a new assisted living community accreditation program to bring “national, consensus-based standards” to the industry. 

The commission will begin accepting applications for the program on July 1. The standards address the environment, staffing, emergency management, dementia care, medication management, provision of care and services, process improvement and more.

In addition to the standards, the accreditation program will require organizations to track and report on five standardized performance measures: off-label antipsychotic drug use, resident falls, resident preferences and goals of care, advanced care plan/surrogate decision-maker and staff stability.

Gina Zimmermann, executive director of the agency’s Nursing Care Center and Assisted Living Community Services, said it is the Joint Commission’s first care continuum expansion in more than 20 years. 

At the beginning of 2020, the major senior living trade associations found themselves on different sides of the issue of industry-initiated national standards. Argentum had applied to the American National Standards Institute in 2019 to become an accredited developer of standards for the industry. On the other side of the argument were the National Center for Assisted Living, LeadingAge and the American Seniors Housing Association, all of which had appealed ANSI’s 2019 approval of Argentum’s application, believing that it 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.

The pandemic moved the argument to the back burner, but ANSI upheld Argentum’s application, with the trade associations saying that discussions would continue about the best way to ensure quality in senior living communities. 

None of the trade associations contacted Monday had a comment on the Joint Commission’s program. A National Center for Assisted Living spokesperson told McKnight’s Senior Living that it supports efforts to improve quality care in assisted living communities and opportunities to partner with stakeholders who share that goal.

NCAL has its own National Quality Award Program that recognizes long-term and assisted living organizations that meet certain goals. The program is based on the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework and has three award levels for commitment to quality, achievement in quality and excellence in quality.

NCAL also has a voluntary Quality Initiative for assisted living communities, with goals related to staff stability, customer satisfaction, hospital readmissions and the off-label use of antipsychotic medications. 

The Joint Commission said it developed its standards based on best practices, scientific evidence, state regulations and life safety codes. The body solicited input from experts in geriatrics, dementia care, rehabilitation, infection control and senior housing. The agency also sought feedback through learning visits, a technical advisory panel, a standards review panel / technical advisory panel field review, public field review and pilot testing.

The new standards were published in the March 2021 E-dition of the “Comprehensive Accreditation Manual for Assisted Living Communities.” 

Accreditation, Zimmerman said, is an “important marker” to demonstrate a community’s commitment to safe and quality treatment and services.

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