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 McMahon’s Long Road through Quality Leads to Limelight

The road to quality may take many twists and turns, but for Ed McMahon, it appears to have come full circle.
McMahon, the vice president of quality at Sunrise Senior Living, has just been named the Mary K. Ousley “Champion of Quality” by the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL).
I’m so proud Ed is receiving this well-deserved recognition,” says Ousley, the award namesake and leader on AHCA’s quality cabinet. “He’s a role model, a quality ambassador, a teacher and a leader of positive change.”
For McMahon, though, the award—which he says came as a complete surprise—is also something of a return-to-origins: McMahon sat on the committee that first created AHCA/NCAL’s quality awards two decades ago.
I got a call from Mark Parkinson,” McMahon says, recalling the notice from AHCA/NCAL president and chief executive officer. “You never know if that’s going to be a good thing or a bad thing.”
McMahon told Provider he’s “surprised, honored and very humbled by this award.”
“There are so many champions of quality in the post-acute profession,” he says. “It’s a shame they all don’t get recognition.”
They just might get their turn, though: In the 20 years since AHCA/NCAL launched its award program, McMahon says he’s seen the profession change not just its own approach to quality, but to change others’ ideas about it, too.
“I have seen that [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] picked up on our language, with their new initiative, QAPI,” he says, referring to CMS’ Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement. “I don’t like that word, QAPI, but everyone calls it that, so I will, too. A lot of that is now in the regulations. They’re looking for cycles of planning, and cycles of refinement and improvement, continually improving and measuring them, and I think we have had an impact on them.”
It wasn’t always that way. When long term care leaders first started talking about a quality awards program, they wanted something along the lines of the congressionally funded Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards in healthcare.
“At the beginning, I think we were looking at it as a carrot,” McMahon says. “AHCA and NCAL had done their Quality First program. But this was a jump, to create a national award program. Our hope was this would help focus people on quality. I think we were successful beyond on our wildest dreams.”
The AHCA/NCAL program launched in 1996, using Baldrige standards for quality measures. Now, AHCA/NCAL’s program is the biggest in the country—larger even then its inspiration.
“The entire profession has come to understand that quality has to be built into everything we do,” McMahon says. “We’re looking, across-the-board, at ways to improve quality.”
And McMahon is convinced it’s not just award-chasing that’s made the difference. He cites the case of a care center that applied for an AHCA/NCAL gold medal for nine years. When they finally won it, it was almost an anti-climax.
“By the time they got to year five or six, they were so committed to quality improvement that everything they did got better,” McMahon recalls. “They suddenly realized that the criteria wasn’t about getting an award. They realized that this was a roadmap for consistently improving the quality of life for residents. That was eye-opening for me: It’s a long evolution. There’s this, aha moment, where they realize, ‘This is making us better. We’re getting better.’ They didn’t even care if they got it.”
(Bill Myers is Provider’s senior editor. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter, @ProviderMyers.)
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