Quality care is at an all-time high. Long term care providers have led the way in making changes to improve quality of care and quality of life for residents and staff. Since 2020, more than 1,400 providers have earned a National Quality Award from the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/ NCAL) National Quality Award Program, which recognizes facilities that meet progressively rigorous standards of performance.

Data shows award recipients perform better than the national average in areas such as hospital readmissions and off-label use of antipsychotics. They also have higher ratings regarding surveys, staffing, and quality metric.1

Lakewood Health System in northwest Minnesota is one of 46 providers that earned a Silver award for quality in 2022. Lakewood received the Bronze award in 2016.

Kathleen Dobson, vice president of senior services at Lakewood Health System, shares the inspiration behind their commitment to strive for quality excellence and offers advice on taking the next step.

Tell us about Lakewood Health System.

We are part of an integrated health system in northwest Minnesota, which includes a 25-bed critical access hospital, six clinics, a geriatric behavioral health unit, and our senior services division, which includes a 100-bed skilled nursing facility, two assisted living facilities, home health, palliative care, and hospice services.

How did you get into long term care?

I began my career as a licensed social worker. In 1996, I took a part-time position in Lakewood Health System’s Care Center, planning for a short-term position, with a long-term goal of getting into a local school system. The role quickly developed into full time, assisting in our hospital and clinics. I was hooked on working in the medical field. After many years as the director of social services, activities, and spiritual health for our system, I was offered the opportunity to transition into the open position of vice president of senior services in 2014. This required me to return to school and become a licensed nursing home administrator and later a licensed assisted living director.

What started the Quality Award journey for your center?

We had a very passionate quality manager who worked for many years to ensure we provided exceptional care and educated all of us on the importance of quality in our everyday practice. She was a mentor to me for over 10 years. When she brought up the idea of starting the journey to achieve the different levels for the AHCA/NCAL Quality Award, it made perfect sense. She had taught us all so much, and we were very proud of our facility and performance record. She assisted with the Bronze application and then volunteered (after retirement!) to help us with our Silver award.

What has the award meant to you and your team?

It has been an ongoing learning experience. It heightened our awareness of what we were doing well and where there were gaps. It helped us celebrate the wins but acknowledge the work still needing to be done. It was inspiring to attend the awards ceremony at the convention. We felt the energy and excitement of all the different facilities. It continues to resonate with us that we are doing really great things in our state and country. We are very proud of this!

What lessons have you learned along the way?

Never accept “good enough,” and always be sure your processes are hard-wired. Be OK with what worked before but is not working now. The pandemic truly shook our industry to the core and perhaps created some pauses in our journey, but I am convinced that the quality work we had done prior made a significant difference in our successes through the pandemic. I am very proud of the grit and determination of our residents, families, and staff.

What advice would you give to a provider that is considering applying for an award but is not sure?
It is worth the work. It sparked a lot of conversations at our facility. You will be surprised at what you will learn about yourself, your team, and your facility’s strengths and opportunities. Some things will make you proud and other things may give you pause. But that is the point.

Do you plan to continue the journey and apply at the next level?

Definitely. It is a little daunting, to be honest, but I know we are worth it.

Finally, what inspires you the most?

The fact that we at Lakewood Health System live our values of integrity, compassion, high quality, accountability, and innovation. It sounds cliche, but working for a rural health care system means we are taking care of our friends, family, neighbors, and each other. Our leadership team has consistently remained driven by our values, and that makes everyone want to be better and do better. There is amazing energy here, and I love being a part of that.

Visit the National Quality Award Program website at https://www.ahcancal.org/Quality/National-Quality-Award-Program/Pages/default.aspx for more information about the upcoming application year.

1. https://www.ahcancal.org/Quality/National-Quality-Award-Program/Documents/QA_fastfacts_2020.pdf