National Assisted Living Week 2021: An Expert’s Advocacy Guide

“There has never been a more crucial, rewarding time to join the assisted living profession and serve our nation’s most vulnerable.”

Helen Crunk, Chair of the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) Board of Directors

Assisted living communities provide a measured form of long-term care to those who need a little extra help, offering support and services to residents while also preserving as much of their independence as possible. The US is home to approximately 28,900 assisted living communities, which collectively house nearly a million licensed beds. But those numbers will likely be on the rise soon: as the Baby Boomer generation ages, they’ll increasingly need the services and support of assisted living communities.

It’s been a difficult year for the staff, residents, volunteers, and families associated with assisted living communities, which were and are acutely vulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic. Quarantine measures meant that many residents suffered in silence, and the assisted living workforce endured an enormous burden while remaining largely outside of the public eye. While the tide has started to turn, there’s still a lot of work to do in ensuring that the worst is truly over.

This year’s National Assisted Living Week (NALW) takes place September 12-18, 2021. First established in 1995, NALW provides a unique opportunity for residents, their loved ones, staff, volunteers, and the surrounding communities to recognize the role of assisted living in caring for America’s seniors and individuals with disabilities. Coming on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic and heading towards a rapidly growing senior population, NALW has never been more important.

Meet the Expert: Helen Crunk, RN, BS

Helen Crunk

Helen Crunk is Chair of the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) Board of Directors, where she has served since 2011. She is also the Executive Director of Pemberly Place Management and Archer Place Medical Clinic, both in Lincoln, Nebraska. Prior to this role, she owned her own consulting firm and assisted living community.

With more than 25 years of experience in long-term care, Crunk specializes in facility management in assisted living and direct care staff education. Notably, she is the only two-time winner of the NCAL Administrator of the Year Award.

The Role of Assisted Living Communities Today

“Assisted living is part of a continuum of long-term care services that provides a combination of housing, personal care services, and healthcare,” Crunk says. “Typically, they serve individuals who need help with certain everyday activities and some healthcare services but do not require 24-hour skilled nursing care services for extended periods of time. The goal of assisted living is to maximize and maintain resident independence for as long as possible. Assisted living offers residents a unique mix of companionship, autonomy, privacy, and security in a home-like setting.”

Typical services at an assisted living community may include supervision, housekeeping and maintenance, meals and dining services, medication management, transportation, and exercise, health, and wellness programs. Some assisted living communities may also specialize in serving individuals with very specific needs, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.

Regardless of the setting or specialization, assisted living communities are centered around the concept of person-centered care, where the services and care are tailored to the specific needs and preferences of each resident.

The Impact of Covid-19 on Assisted Living Communities

“This pandemic has taken an enormous toll on our staff and residents,” Crunk says. “Not only have many experienced tremendous loss, [but] it also has been exhausting, physically and emotionally, battling this virus day in and day out. For months, we were fighting an invisible virus that uniquely targets our resident population without the proper support of public health officials.”

Assisted living did not receive additional support until September 2020, well into the coronavirus pandemic. And while that aid has helped, it hasn’t been enough to repair the damage done. A strong vaccine rollout has given many assisted living communities hope, but the fight isn’t over.

“There are many lessons to be learned throughout the entire healthcare system, not just long-term care,” Crunk says. “We hope this crisis will shine a light on the need to prioritize and invest in our nation’s seniors to ensure they are protected and have access to high-quality care.”

The Effects of an Aging Population on Assisted Living Communities

The nation’s seniors are a vitally important demographic, and one that’s growing at a rapid clip. By 2060, it’s estimated that the Baby Boomer generation will have doubled the elderly population in America, and more than half of that demographic will require long-term care at some point. This will only magnify the importance of assisted living communities, and the need for qualified and dedicated caregivers to support the senior population.

“Workforce recruitment and retention are one of the most pressing challenges confronting long-term care providers, even today,” Crunk says. “The healthcare system has experienced a shortage of trained caregivers for critical roles for some time; nurses and nurse aides are among the fastest-growing occupations, but supply is not keeping pace. We need the support of policymakers to help recruit and retain more people to work in long-term care to ensure our nation can support the needs of our assisted living residents.”

The Future of Assisted-Living Communities

As America’s population ages, assisted living communities will play a larger and larger role within the long-term care continuum. The 14,000-strong membership of the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and NCAL continues to advocate for the long-term care profession. And now more than ever, it’s crucial to raise awareness around the work they’ve done and continue to do.

“The past year has been the most challenging in our profession’s history, but I believe a brighter future lies ahead,” Crunk says. “Assisted living will continue to grow and innovate while remaining rooted in how to best serve each unique resident. We are dedicated to learning from this pandemic, renewing our commitment to our seniors, and offering solutions that will improve the quality of care in assisted living for many generations to come. There has never been a more crucial, rewarding time to join the assisted living profession and serve our nation’s most vulnerable.”

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging issues in healthcare administration and public health, with a particular focus on progressive policies that empower communities and reduce health disparities. His work centers around detailed interviews with researchers, professors, and practitioners, as well as with subject matter experts from professional associations such as the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) and the American College of Health Care Executives (ACHCA).

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