Guest Columns

A senior living perspective on ACOs

Nikole Jay
Nikole Jay

Healthcare organizations across the country have formed partnerships to provide what many believe to be a more efficient and effective type of care through accountable care organizations. Progressive senior living organizations, like Judson Park, have researched, planned and are beginning to transform.

We recently joined an ACO with the hopes of delivering a collaborative health care model that will bridge the gap between physicians, hospitals and skilled nursing providers to offer high-quality coordinated care to area seniors.

Our mission: to ensure individuals have access to the care they need, when they need it, and in a cost-effective manner. Our group focuses on the Triple Aim initiative, which adheres to the following three objectives: Improving health by minimizing unnecessary treatment, duplication of services and hospitalizations; enhancing the experience and outcome of individuals receiving services; and being good stewards of financial and resources.

By joining the ACO, Judson Park, which offers skilled nursing and short-stay subacute rehabilitation, expects to see enhanced levels of subacute care, higher resident satisfaction and the ability to serve more seniors from the greater community.

Are you a long-term care provider interested in joining an ACO partnership in your area? Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Identify ACO groups that are forming in your area. Contact hospital leadership, physician groups, state associations, insurance companies and other providers. Often, ACOs originate within a large physician group and hospital systems, and subsequently they create continuing care networks to improve outcomes and control unnecessary spending.
  • After reaching out to key contacts to learn more about necessary criteria for becoming an ACO, your community must be prepared to join an ACO.

    Two years ago, I began shifting our program at Judson Park to meet and exceed criteria provided by ACOs, so that when opportunity was presented in our county, we would be prepared to join and get approved. It took a great deal of planning and hard work, as we had to move from a long-term care skilled nursing community primarily serving our own residents, to becoming a fast-paced short-stay model able to serve residents from outside our continuing care retirement community. Setting the stage for success early contributed to unanimous acceptance by the ACO.

  • Once you make the transition from long-term care provider to short-stay subacute care, it's important to have documentation of the transition. Use data to back up your findings. If being considered to join an ACO, be prepared to show the outcomes that your team can deliver on quality care, nursing staffing pattern, high engagement with medical personnel, therapy services with complex disease management pathways, and length of SNF stays.

    It's important to reiterate how you can help control unnecessary costs. Be sure to have your readmission numbers on hand and talk about how you manage the high-risk readmissions. It's also important to know and understand your satisfaction ratings, and show why the ACO model is working for your organization and your residents.

I strongly believe if you have the capability and the option to join an ACO, you should go for it. These partnerships will help improve overall quality of care and resident experiences, and control high increases in health care costs. 

Without an ACO partnership, you'll most likely be unable to deliver necessary outcomes or impact the financial targets we need in today's healthcare system. These types of partnerships will continue to grow, and without your community being a part of one, you risk being left behind to navigate the healthcare system alone, while other short-term care providers are thriving in an ACO.

Nikole Jay is the executive director at Judson Park, a senior living community in Des Moines, WA.

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