Atria’s Commitment to Quality
Posted on October 20, 2014 by Taylor Rhea
At Atria Senior Living, everything we do is driven by quality. Our number one goal is to make the best possible life for our residents. To deliver on that promise, we created the Quality Enhancement program to ensure every aspect of life at our communities meets the highest standards in the industry. Sheela Stevens, EVP Quality Officer, has long been a pioneer in our unique, industry-leading approach to quality. We sat down with her to learn more about Atria’s Quality Enhancement program and the role it plays in our communities.
ASL: Can you talk about how Atria’s Quality Enhancement program began?
Sheela: When we decided to establish a Quality Enhancement program more than a decade ago, our goal was to provide Atria residents with the highest level of service in the senior living industry. However, with so many communities spread out across the country, we needed a universal set of guidelines to ensure consistent quality from one community to the next. So we began to put together standards that we could use in every community – standards that would allow us to accurately measure the quality of our services and identify areas where we can get better.
We met with each department and reviewed what they considered most important. We took into account state regulations, safety components and a number of other factors. It was an extensive process. But when we rolled out the new standards in 2004, we found it really helped our communities to focus on quality – and helped ensure consistently exceptional service in each and every Atria community. That first rollout was the genesis of what we now call Atria’s Quality Enhancement program.
ASL: Do you feel like Atria’s quality review process is unique in the industry?
There are a lot of quality measurement programs in senior assisted living, but many are more clinically focused. Our QE program is unique in that it takes into consideration both clinical factors as well as the overall resident experience. Plus, we are very proactive when it comes to quality standards – we don’t wait for bad things to happen and then follow up. We try to look ahead and prevent them.
We can do this because our quality evaluation tool is very agile; it gives us the ability to change or add elements very easily. So, for instance, if an upcoming change in state regulations calls for a modification to our evaluation criteria, we can make that change immediately. Having that kind of flexibility is one reason our QE program is so effective. It allows us to constantly adapt and refine our standards.
ASL: What was your background before coming to Atria?
Sheela: I worked at University and Suburban Hospital and collaborated with other hospitals in Louisville, Kentucky doing social work, case management, infection control, orientation – and most importantly – quality assurance. Eventually I went to work for a hospice in homecare group as the operator before coming to Atria more than 16 years ago.
When I first joined the company, the senior assisted living industry was still in its infancy; I think there were only five states that had regulations. And in terms of quality measurement, a lot of senior living providers were still trying to get it right, so to speak.
Thanks to my background, I had a good understanding of regulations and what kinds of things to watch out for, which helped a lot when developing our Quality Enhancement program. Of course, Atria’s Quality Enhancement program is not just regulatory based, it’s customer-service driven, too.
ASL: Sometimes Atria acquires communities that have been previously managed by other companies. Have you found it a challenge to transition these communities to Atria’s QE standards?
Sheela: Yes, most of them have never had anything like this in place. Some have gone through some type of quality reviews, but not all of them, so we try to ease them into the process.
For example, when we assume the responsibility of managing a community in California, our first QE visit is primarily focused on making sure that we meet state requirements. We will usually do a couple of reviews like this and then, when we think they are ready, we give them the rest of the QE evaluation.
ASL: Can you think of a time where a community wasn’t making the grade and then hit it out of the park?
Sheela: Oh there are bunches! I think all of them really started out as Cinderella stories.
Some companies use quality reviews to identify what is going on in building and then leave it to the community to fix. They say, “Here is what’s wrong with your building. Good luck!”
At Atria, if we identify opportunities for improvement during a quality review, we help the community come up with a plan to address them. Then we check to make sure that plan is being carried out.
We want all of our communities to be successful because – ultimately – that’s what’s best for our residents. I think the support we give our communities is a really big point-of-difference for our company.
ASL: What is your favorite part of the job?
Sheela: What makes me – and the rest of our Quality Enhancement Team – feel good is seeing a community improve. To see a team of employees commit to improving and turn things around and put themselves in the running for a Q Award – that’s our favorite part.
ASL: Could you talk more about the Q Award?
Sheela: Q Awards are given out twice a year, based on two annual quality reviews. If a community gets an award during the first half of the year, they get a monetary bonus. They may also qualify to skip their second review for the year – so they can get off the hook! Communities can earn up to two Q Awards in the same year.
ASL: Does it get competitive?
Sheela: Oh yes! I count on that. I even share which communities are scoring the highest and which ones are not scoring very high. I count on that sense of competition.
ASL: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about Atria’s approach to quality?
Sheela: On behalf of everyone on our Quality Enhancement Team, I’d like to say that we really love what we do. Every day has new challenges, new problems to solve. That said, the reason Atria holds our communities to the highest quality standards in the senior living industry isn’t because it’s easy. It’s because we believe our residents – and their families – deserve nothing less.
ASL: Thank you so much for your time, Sheela.
Sheela: Thank you!