A Day in the Life of an Assisted Living Administrator

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018) predicted a job growth of 20 percent for medical and health services managers in the decade preceding 2026—almost three times faster than average. With the aging Baby Boomer generation, the need for facilities that provide a little extra help to elderly residents is projected to grow similarly.

When it comes to caring for our aging loved ones, assisted living administrators play a vital role. Assisted living facilities specialize in providing care for senior citizens, and assisted living administrators oversee all of the facility’s operations. These spaces are more community-focused than other medical institutions, and their administration requires both keen business skills and a compassionate human touch. Assisted living administrators are responsible for a wide scope of responsibilities that vary from facility to facility, but the ultimate goal is to provide a secure and empowering environment for the elderly population they serve.

Read on to learn about where assisted living administrators work, who they work with, what they do, and what you need to become one.

Work Environment of Assisted Living Administrators

Assisted living administrators work in assisted living facilities, which share some commonalities with nursing homes. Both nursing homes and assisted living residences serve elderly residents by providing a secure environment, support services, medication management, communal activities, and meal preparation. But the critical differences between assisted living facilities and nursing homes lie in their medical services and structural appearance.

Nursing homes provide around-the-clock medical care and monitoring. This could mean the staff includes speech pathologists, specialized nurses, respiratory specialists, or physical therapists. As a result, a nursing home can appear more institutional than an assisted living facility and may resemble a hospital where residents sometimes share rooms and are cared for by full-time medical professionals.

Assisted living facilities provide a group living environment for aging citizens, and the staff is better equipped to respond to minor and less life-threatening issues like impaired mobility and memory loss. As a result, resident life is more community-focused and empowering for the residents, who often have their own suites and a strong sense of agency in their day to day lives, with assistance always close by should they need it.

Clinical Team

While an assisted living administrator is tasked with overseeing the overall operations of a facility, they often manage a team of directors that take charge of individualized areas. The precise composition of such a team typically depends on the residence’s size and specialties.

An activities director may be responsible for community events that keep residents fit and engaged. A nutrition director ensures that residents eat healthy and nutritious foods and that each individual’s particular dietary needs are met. Depending on the level of medical care required for the resident population, an administrator may also work with a medical director who manages care teams of assistants and technicians and refers out for follow-up support.

In some facilities, an administrator will report up to a board of directors. In every case, the coordination between directors and administrators is critical for an integrated system of care.

Daily Responsibilities of Assisted Living Administrators

An assisted living administrator is charged with overseeing all the operations of an assisted living facility. This is a top-level management position that comes with a customized routine—one that must adapt each day to the needs of the facility’s staff, residents, and families. While the responsibilities will vary based upon the size, scope, and population of the residence, some overarching responsibilities include:

  • Planning a facility’s budget
  • Hiring and maintaining staff
  • Conducting meetings with department heads
  • Marketing the facility’s services to the wider community
  • Implementing policies and goals
  • Coordinating logistical functions such as food service
  • Monitoring a facility’s compliance with state regulations

While strong business management responsibilities make up the bulk of an administrator’s daily agenda, another essential aspect of the job is to serve as the face and leader of the facility, which requires less quantifiable and more human directives, such as:

  • Acting as a liaison between residents, families, staff, and community
  • Engaging with residents and staff via facility walkthroughs
  • Developing a culture of compassion throughout the facility
  • Ensuring a safe, equitable, and engaging living environment
  • Keeping the facility pivoted towards resident-centric operations

To be an assisted living administrator is to be engaged in a constant juggling act. As the administrator of a 24-hour facility, one must always be on-call. Furthermore, as the leader of a community of residents, administrators must be consistently attuned to the personalized needs of those under their care.

Required Skills & Knowledge of Assisted Living Administrators

Assisted living administrators need two contrasting, but critical, skill sets: rational business acumen and a compassionate human touch. Each facility is a business and needs to be treated as such. For this reason, administrators but have a full scope of knowledge about record-keeping, budgeting, and other financial instruments.

However, an assisted living residence is also a community of individuals, and thus requires pertinent attention to the personalized needs of each resident and his or her family. While not as medically intensive as a nursing home, assisted living facilities do need to tend to the needs of an aging population, which requires some knowledge of gerontology and end-of-life care.

A bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration could be considered the bare minimum for work as an assisted living administrator. However, to truly meet the needs of an assisted living facility, a graduate-level education is strongly recommended. An MBA with a healthcare focus, an MHA with a gerontology focus, and other specialized educational options can flesh out an administrator’s skills and empower them in the right combination of social, medical, and business knowledge.

Certification & Licensure for Assisted Living Administrators

Most states require licensure of assisted living administrators, with each state having different eligibility requirements. The National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards (NAB) maintains a list of states that require licensure through the Residential Care Assisted Living (RCAL) exam.

For some states, the NAB administers the RCAL exam itself to measure entry-level knowledge and competent skills for the profession, which can act as a component of state licensure. Pricing, eligibility, and other state-specific requirements can be found in the NAB’s Candidate Handbook.

A separate credential is the Certified Assisted Living Administrator (CALA) offered through the American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA). While not a required certification, it does provide national recognition by a unified standard of excellence across the profession. To be eligible, applicants must meet certain educational and professional requirements, including two years of licensure (if required by the applicant’s state) and 40 hours of approved continuing education courses. A single application costs $150 for members and non-members of the ACHCA.

Once an applicant is determined eligible, they may sit for a 110-question general education exam, followed by a 40-question exam in an area of specialization: resident care, human resources, finance, environment, or leadership. The exam is designed to draw upon an applicant’s personal experience, which makes preprogrammed study materials difficult to provide. However, the ACHCA does offer an exam blueprint and a list of primary sources in their Certification Handbook.

As a final note, recertification is required every five years, where applicants must either complete 150 continuing education hours, take the ACHCA’s Executive Course, or pass a certification specialty exam again. A single bout of credentialing costs $350 for non-members and $250 for members. Recertification costs $389 for non-members and $339 for members. Precise details of all pricing and recertification options are available in the ACHCA’s Certification Handbook.