The AHCA/NCAL National Quality Award Program provides a pathway for providers to journey toward performance excellence. The program is based on the core values and criteria of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. There are three progressive levels of awards: Bronze—Commitment to Quality, Silver—Achievement in Quality, and Gold—Excellence in Quality. To achieve Gold level status, applicants must show superior performance in areas of the criteria, including leadership, strategic planning, and customer and staff satisfaction. All applications are judged by trained examiners who provide feedback on opportunities for improvement to support continuous learning.

While being distinguished as the best of the best is a welcome honor, the rewards of earning the prestigious Gold award in the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) National Quality Award Program go well beyond recognition. The long term/post-acute care centers that achieve this status gain knowledge, insight, skills, and more that will last long after the award ceremony is over.

This year, three facilities received the Gold award: The Alverno Health Care Facility in Clinton, Iowa; Edgemoor DPSNF in Santee, Calif.; and Inova Loudon Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (ILNRC) in Leesburg, Va.

Libby Goodman, MBA, LNHA, administrator at The Alverno, says, “We pursued this to go through the process. The Baldrige criteria break down every aspect of business—who we are, who are competitors are, and who we want to be.”

Getting Started

The most important part of the journey for her team was the strategic planning process. “We really worked on this over the years, and it took us a long time to get where we wanted to be.” Looking back, she says, “It is fun to reflect on how we got here and how far we’ve come.”

The AlvernoAt first, admits Goodman, not everyone on staff understood the process or what the awards meant. “We identified champions for each category, and they each had teams and partners to work with. Over time, more people got engaged and excited about the process,” she says. “As they worked through the improvement process, they were able to see results, and that was powerful.”

Goodman says her team has been celebrating with events such as an ice cream sundae party and prime rib dinner, and they are honored to be the first center in Iowa to receive the Gold award. The Alverno provides skilled nursing and rehabilitation and is part of the Trinity Senior Living Communities of Livonia, Mich.

A True Success Story

Edgemoor DPSNF, a county-run skilled nursing center, cares for the sickest, most complex, most vulnerable population and is a safety net for patients who can’t afford or get care elsewhere. Their journey to the Gold award, says Administrator Walter Hekimian, was one of leadership, strategy, customers, and service.

Edgemoor DPSNF“Under the county’s mission, vision, and values, we developed overlapping systems of input and transparency, evolving to make it simpler for staff to understand and contribute. More than a third of staff participate annually in strategic planning.” Finally, says Hekimian, his center’s journey was one of results.

“Despite high numbers of high-risk residents, funded by Medicaid and with an average age of 55 with long lengths of stays, as well as high rates of mental illness and behavioral problems, Edgemoor exceeds benchmarks for quality care, efficiency, and quality of life for its workforce, residents, and customers,” he says.

Rebecca Ferrini, MD, MPH, CMD, Edgemoor’s medical director, admits that the application process was challenging but ultimately illuminating and productive. 

“It gave us a much stronger sense of what we’re doing and what our goals are,” she says. “Everything comes together when you put your emphasis on creating a quality organization.” Staff members were “over the moon” when they learned about the award, Ferrini says.

A Focus on Performance

“Our quality journey to ‘win the Gold’ was a learning progression as we implemented and improved key work processes, benchmarked against competitors for excellent results, and maintained an atmosphere of continuous quality improvement,” says Pamela Janney, assistant administrator at ILNRC, a hospital-based skilled nursing center owned by a not-for-profit health system. Throughout the process, she says, feedback reports were reviewed for opportunities for improvement. 

ILNRC“Through a systematic approach, we focused on key performance measures to achieve desired results. ILNRC has learned that it takes a committed team. The entire staff spent countless hours providing quality care to our residents, focusing on service, and improving outcomes.” Janney adds that her facility is especially honored to be the first one in Virginia to earn the Gold award.

The award process to achieve this national recognition as a Gold recipient has been challenging and overwhelming at times, Janney admits, but well worth the final result. She says, “Our facility has achieved a milestone that is celebrated by our employees, residents, families, and community at large.”
Joanne Kaldy is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in Harrisburg, Pa.