​T​he American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) honored six long term care providers for earning the coveted National Gold Quality Award at the association’s annual convention in October. 

Providers that achieve the Gold award represent the best in the nation. In the history of the association’s Quality Awards program, only 49 long term care facilities have received the distinction. The three-level process aims to evaluate long term care organizations’ capabilities against nationally recognized standards for excellence known as the Malcolm Baldrige criteria. 

Two of the six facilities celebrated were recognized for earning the Gold award in 2021.

​​Magnolia Manor of Marion County

Angela Watkins, RN, administrator of Magnolia Manor of Marion County in Buena Vista, Ga., says for her 70-bed facility in rural Georgia the latest attempt to achieve Gold has been a long and hard battle. 

“One of the challenges along the way was understanding the Malcolm Baldrige criteria and learning how to apply what we do on a daily basis into answers that met the criteria,” she says. “A lot of time went into this effort.”

But the time spent on writing the application was a good thing, notes Watkins. “What we didn’t realize at first was that we were also becoming a more unified team. Because of this unity, we were better prepared to fight the pandemic.”

When asked what kept them going after applying unsuccessfully for the Gold once before, Watkins said, “The more you work on the application, the more you understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Each time we tried, we were becoming more award-worthy.”

​​Why Keep Going

Watkins’ advice for providers who are debating on continuing with the program: “You are in this business because you care about [the] residents. If you care about them at all, you can’t give up. You’ve got to keep working on anything that makes their quality of care and quality of life better. Keep going for it.”

What stands out the most about reaching this milestone, Watkins says, is “when you are able to make a change that you can see that cannot only make a difference in the lives of the residents, but then you can sustain that change; to me that’s powerful. If you invest in the right efforts in improving your processes, success will follow.”

​​Maine Veterans' Home - Bangor

For Administrator Greg Urban of Maine Veterans’ Home - Bangor in Bangor, Maine, a 150-bed facility that cares for residents who have served in the U.S. military, achieving Gold took “hard work, perseverance, and a tremendous amount of support.” 


Urban says that Maine Veterans' Homes (MVH) leadership has supported their quality journey since the beginning. MVH - Bangor is the latest MVH to earn Gold. In 2018, MVH - Machias reached Gold, as did MVH - Scarborough in 2016.

“I don’t think I could have easily gone as far without their support,” Urban says. Their advice led Urban to go to conventions, join AHCA’s Life Safety Committee, and volunteer as an examiner for the Quality Awards program. 

“I became an examiner to better understand the quality program,” Urban says. Examiners for the program review applications at the Silver and Gold levels.

​The Road to Gold

The journey to reach Gold started in 2010 when MVH - Bangor earned Bronze, the first level of the program. “As a facility we felt we were a good team,” says Urban, “but we wanted to be the best we could be.

“These past 11 years were not easy,” he adds. “We applied twice for the Silver and twice for the Gold.”

The value in sticking with the program became clear when he realized the application process was unifying his team even more. “Each step of the way brought our team closer together as we focused in on excellence at all levels,” he says.

Throughout the experience, staff have improved their service to the residents with new, innovative approaches. For example, Urban says, “Since it is difficult to take large numbers of residents to community events, we now bring many community events to their home, like car shows, parades, and motorcycle shows where residents can take a ride in a sidecar and feel the wind in their hair.”

Urban admits that when he first learned about the Quality Awards program, he was a little skeptical. But after researching more and experiencing firsthand the work involved, his opinion shifted. 

“It’s very difficult and very valid, and it’s based on something that was created outside our profession. I certainly believe in it now.”

Now that the Quality Awards program has shown them a clear pathway toward excellence, Urban says, MVH - Bangor will continue the journey.

For more information about the Baldrige-based AHCA/NCAL Quality Awards program, find it on www.ahcancal.org. The deadline to apply for the 2022 program year is Jan. 27, 2022.

Andrea Todd is director of public affairs at the American Health Care Association.​