Ready With An Assist

July 8, 2005
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WYOMING — Marsha Harrison wants to assure the elderly that they are getting the care they need when they live in an assisted living center.

Homes for the aged or adult foster care homes, which are licensed, and assisted living centers need to be aware of the changing needs of their residents as they age, and accommodate them with quality care, Harrison said. She is helping them to boost quality, become licensed or keep their licenses and retain both residents and staff, making the facility more stable.

The state has guidelines for the facilities, but Harrison said they are not always clear.

“They just tell you what to do, they don’t tell you how to do it,” she said.

To help with this, Harrison started Elder Care Management Consultants PC in 1991. She took five years, from 1999 to 2004, to try out her recommendations as an administrator at Rose Garden Homes, a 46-bed licensed home for the aged, and now she is consulting full time and working to expand her business.

“I just can’t sit back and have the expertise and not be able to share it,” she said.

Harrison, who has a master of science degree in nursing, has always loved working with the elderly. When she began her consulting business she focused on home health care until she realized there was a great need in the assisted living community.

She worked with the now-closed Olds Manor, which she said gave her experience with the state licensing practices.

“That led me in a direction of working quite closely with the state licensing department,” she said.

Harrison was the first state-approved monitor of homes for the aged to assist homes that were not in compliance, which she did from 1996 to 1999.

Harrison said she feels an “aging in place” policy is very important to retaining residents in a facility. The policy is a “way of negotiating with residents and their families for what it will take for them to stay in that housing without moving as their needs increase.”

Though assisted living facilities may not have the ability to treat all residents as they age or illnesses progress, Harrison said it is best to let the residents know what they are getting into and how they will be helped if their health deteriorates.

The difficult part is retaining residents while giving them adequate care.

To achieve this, Harrison said facilities must conduct a self-assessment to determine if they are really committed to continuing care or if they are only interested in the bottom line.

“If they are interested in having me work for them, that’s my first criteria,” she said.

During her time at Rose Garden Homes, Harrison was able to see how her methods worked and determine the best way to provide quality care for residents.

Ray Fix, the chief financial officer of Progressive AE and part-owner of Rose Garden Homes, said Harrison has a reputation for measuring the quality of care in homes that were not meeting the state standards.

“She developed some very excellent programs and standards for quality care for the residents of the facility and staff training and development,” he said.

Before Harrison came to Rose Garden Homes, Fix said there had been administrative turnover as well as high staff turnover.

“She quickly stabilized the staff and we now have staff that has been staying very long-term at the facility,” he said.

When Harrison left Rose Garden Homes to consult full time in November, Fix said her legacy was a smoothly running facility.

“They’re doing wonderfully,” he said. “She’s done a good job with putting the fundamentals in place for the facility to operate very efficiently.”

Fix said he believes Harrison will take what she learned during her time at Rose Garden Homes and put in place the practices she applied there at other facilities throughout the state.

Harrison said as she looks to expand her company, she is hoping to bring in other nurses, who are underutilized in the assisted living business.

“It’s a different model” than nursing homes, Harrison said of assisted living centers. “But you still need the nurse’s experience in assessing the care and directing the team that’s going to be providing the care.”

Harrison said though the business may undergo some changes, the mission to improve quality of care for the elderly will stay the same.

“Assisted living homes are not listening to the needs of the consumers,” she said. “There are just a whole lot of little things I can help them with.”

Some of the benefits Elder Care Management Consultants offers are increased success with employee retention and satisfaction, cost-effective quality improvement and risk management, increased compliance with state licensing regulations and other standards, reduced risk and increased resident and family satisfaction.

Harrison does this by helping with a plan of correction, recruitment and retention strategies, risk management plans, facilitation of organizational change, classification of the role of nurses in the center and more.

Though the state has licensing requirements, Harrison said she thinks the centers should do more to ensure the quality care that patients receive.

“I would like to see if we can get more homes to voluntarily make the commitment.”

Voluntary use of regulation would prevent stricter regulation from the state, which usually takes place in reaction to a problem.

“We have to figure out how to do it right,” she said.

Harrison said she does not know of any other consultants who are working with assisted living centers, though there are many consultants for nursing homes.

“I have to expand it,” she said of the business. “There’s just too much need for me to be doing what I’ve been doing.”    

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