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Building Consumer Understanding and Trust.

Assisted living experienced a watershed year in 1999 in terms of steps taken to ensure consumer protection and quality of care for the future. While the industry has always been committed to helping consumers navigate the many options now available in the marketplace, concerns raised about these issues in a report on assisted living prepared by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) last spring brought them to the forefront.

As the trade association with the largest assisted living membership, the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) continues to take action to ensure that clear and accurate information is getting to consumers so they can be smart shoppers of assisted living. The Senate Special Committee on Aging, which called for the GAO report, has welcomed the industry's efforts, but ALFA and its members know that we must maintain a high level of quality care and service if we are to avoid calls for new government mandates. Both nursing home and assisted living providers can agree that increased regulation does not necessarily lead to quality of care or well-informed consumers.

Consumers are often overwhelmed by the range in size, design and specialty of senior living communities. In March of this year ALFA, along with the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), launched a new consumer education effort. The two associations jointly released an "Assisted Living Consumer Information Statement" that will help standardize the information that prospective residents and their families receive during their initial visit to an assisted living community. This form allows providers to communicate more clearly and effectively to consumers the details about their services, fee structures, policies, staffing and building safety features. This vital information will help consumers compare the features of the assisted living communities they visit, enabling them to make a well-informed decision when choosing the residence that best meets their needs.

Helping the consumer make an educated decision benefits the industry and the customer alike. It builds trust between the provider and the consumer, and avoids future misunderstandings. To further that trust level, ALFA developed a Model Resident Admission Agreement and has made it available free of charge to providers, consumers and other interested parties. This document can be used as a guide to help providers develop their own resident admission agreement that meets their company's specific needs, as well as state laws. The ALFA Model Resident Admission Agreement defines the relationship between the provider and the potential resident and legally binds both parties to numerous terms, ranging from services packages to payment terms to community rules and regulations.

Key to helping consumers easily find information on individual assisted living communities is the expansion of the ALFA online directory. ALFA initiated a campaign whereby our members are furnishing baseline information about their residences on the Internet. Profile information about services, fees and amenities is collected and added to the online member directory at Consumers can go to ALFA's Web site and click directly on "Careguide," one of the leading online senior housing directories. Consumers searching the directory will learn more about a residence's staffing, fees and services before they even call or visit. Making this information available on the Internet not only offers a great opportunity for providers to promote their residences and reach out to customers, it also increases visibility and consumer understanding of the entire industry.

Assisted living is regulated at the state level in each of the 50 states. Throughout the country, assisted living providers are partnering with consumer advocates, state regulators and legislators to study, license and incorporate assisted living into state long-term care systems. States are approaching assisted living in a variety of ways, ranging from developing new assisted living licensure, to covering assisted living services under existing board and care regulations, to studying and piloting new regulatory approaches.

The assisted living industry has a great opportunity to take the important steps necessary to ensure consumer protection and quality of care, and we are all striving toward that goal. To continually improve standards for quality in assisted living, ALFA has endorsed the development of a national voluntary assisted living accreditation process recently announced by the Rehabilitation Accreditation Commission (CARF). ALFA applauds this accreditation process as a major step forward that will directly benefit consumers. The independent accreditation process will be uniquely designed to reflect the customer-oriented aspects of the assisted living model, as well as the different state cultures and regulatory environments. The goal is to standardize the importance of quality, not to limit innovation in how quality can be achieved. The new standards will be published in an Assisted Living Standards Manual early next year and site surveys that lead to accreditation are expected to begin July 1, 2000.

ALFA and the industry are meeting the recommendations of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and the GAO report by ensuring consumer protection and quality of care through the development of comprehensive resident agreements, consumer guides and checklists, thoughtful state regulations and Internet information. These industry initiatives are significant and, when taken advantage of, will result in putting more upfront information about assisted living into the hands of consumers.

Beth Singley is director of federal relations for the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA). For more information about the "Assisted Living Consumer Information Statement" and the "Model Resident Admission Agreement," visit www. or call ALFA at (703) 691-8100.
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Publication:Nursing Homes
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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