​According to Mother Teresa, “It is not how much you do, but how much love you put in the doing.”

I am a firm believer in putting love in everything you do. I had a unique opportunity to see love in action during recent visits to assisted living communities across the country. The providers and staff I met throughout these experiences embody Mother Teresa’s sentiment; they are selfless, patient, dedicated, and full of love for their residents. This isn’t just a job for them. They connect with their residents and staff on a familial level. They support the families that depend on them for care of a loved one, and it’s easy to see the love in everything they do.

It is amazing.

It’s even more amazing to witness how assisted living providers across the country are implementing new, innovative ways to meet the needs and wants of residents—including future residents. Our country has an aging population, and many older adults will need assisted living or some type of long term care in the coming years. Nationally, the 80 and older population is forecasted to grow over 9 percent between now and 2027. The number of unpaid caregivers (such as family members) will decrease over the next five years, resulting in an increased need for paid caregivers in an appropriate long term care setting.

Assisted living communities are offering enhanced services, new technologies, and modern buildings for residents to enjoy. All of these contribute to a higher overall customer satisfaction rate from residents and families. Providers are continuously finding new ways to move the needle on the value and high-quality care they already offer.

One such community is Avamere at Chestnut Lane in Gresham, Ore. It is one of two communities for the Deaf and the only one that caters to the DeafBlind in the nation. Most of the residents are deaf and communicate with American Sign Language. Many staff members have worked there for several years. The executive director is part of the Deaf community, which helps to bring in and keep the Deaf culture at the forefront of the care and services provided. It is an incredible community that provides invaluable, high-quality services to a specialized population.

There is also Ecumen Lakeview Commons in Maplewood, Minn. The community’s award-winning approach to Alzheimer’s and dementia care, known as Awakenings, gives purpose and meaning to residents. It celebrates the individual, focuses on what makes someone who they are, and utilizes an engaged care team to bring together those elements and so much more to help residents thrive. To understand Awakenings, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UqTW7doE7I.

These communities are inspiring, but not rare in assisted living. Recently, there have been numerous stories in the press that have taken a narrow look at assisted living, making sweeping generalizations with limited information. They focus on a small part of the picture that, while still important to acknowledge, is not fully representative of what I know to be true about this profession. There are so many good stories that aren’t being told, such as the remarkable impact and value of communities like these two.

Similarly, there are also many important policy issues that either aren’t being discussed or are being viewed through a narrow lens with a one-size-fits-all approach. These policy issues have a tremendous impact on residents and providers, such as Medicaid underpayment. This chronic underfunding prevents many providers from even participating in the program and often forces those with Medicaid residents to reconsider their decision to participate. This significantly impacts access to these vital services for residents. Medicaid only covers the services provided within assisted living communities; it does not cover room/board and operating expenses. This lack of funding must be covered by other means, including funds that could otherwise be used to enhance services for residents.

At the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), we’ll continue to push policymakers to strengthen the Medicaid program for assisted living residents. We are advocating for policies that support access to Medicaid in assisted living and ensuring policymakers know the challenges providers face. We also continue to educate policymakers to ensure they have a clear understanding of what assisted living is and how each assisted living community is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of the residents that choose to call assisted living home.

LaShuan BetheaAssisted living provides enormous value beyond measure and is a key component of the long term care continuum. We must find ways to support our passionate providers and caregivers so they can continue to innovate and provide the high-quality care that our residents deserve.

Note: This article is the first in a series that will focus on the value and important role of assisted living.

LaShuan Bethea is the executive director of the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL).