Guest Columns

Cheers to 30 years at Mass Senior Care

Carolyn Blanks, Massachusetts Senior Care Foundation
Carolyn Blanks, Massachusetts Senior Care Foundation

Since forward-thinking leaders in long-term care established the Massachusetts (Mass) Senior Care Foundation in 1985, we have made great strides in support of our mission to enhance clinical and workforce quality across the continuum of care for older adults and people with disabilities. A critical component of the strength of our relationships is to work with a broad range of partners.  

As the research and education affiliate of Mass Senior Care Association, the foundation has an internal network of partners among the association's 400 member skilled nursing facilities, assisted living residences and continuing care retirement communities. These providers give us a “finger on the pulse” perspective for what is needed to advance high quality care in an ever-changing environment that informs the foundation's agenda and strategies.

The Mass Senior Care members, along with their associated businesses and vendors, generously support the foundation's flagship annual scholarship program. Since its inception in 1985, that program has awarded $2.6 million in scholarships to help 1,500 long term care staff achieve their educational and professional goals. The scholarship program shines a light on the compelling stories and accomplishments of our selected “Foundation Scholars” while also contributing to the development of a skilled, committed and diverse workforce.     

We build on and benefit from our connections with the broader academic community too. Researchers and faculty from Massachusetts and beyond have long reached out to the foundation to advise or partner on projects that incorporate a focus on long-term care. We work with researchers to inform and evaluate our workforce and quality improvement initiatives. Five years ago, we forged a partnership with University of Massachusetts Lowell School of Nursing to develop an annual summer institute to enhance nursing faculty knowledge of gerontological nursing so they can better prepare their graduates to provide quality care for older adults. Participating faculty identify a related teaching project they will implement over the academic year and spend half a day in a clinical site placement at a local skilled nursing facility. These clinical experiences have changed faculty attitudes about long-term care and increased employment opportunities for their students. Our faculty “graduates” have become long-term care champions, sharing their enthusiasm and what they have learned with their peers.

Improving care transitions to prevent avoidable, costly hospital readmissions and improve patient care and satisfaction has long been a priority. We have actively promoted and participated in INTERACT and other care transition improvement initiatives.  The foundation's most ambitious work in this arena has been the Care Transitions Education Project (CTEP), an innovative training strategy to equip nurses and nursing students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to lead and improve patient-centered care transitions. With funding through Partners Investing in Nursing's Future (PIN), a collaborative initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Northwest Health Foundation, Mass Senior Care Foundation was the lead cofounder in the project in partnership with the Western Massachusetts Nursing Collaborative, a group of nurse leaders representing practice settings and academia.  

Care transitions involve multiple settings and staff with nurses playing a pivotal role. From 2012-2014, educators from service and academia piloted and evaluated the CTEP curriculum across 32 organizations across the care continuum with over 350 frontline nurses and nursing students. One of the most unique components of the training is a required patient tracer experience, which involved a nurse following a patient from one care setting to another. Nurses worked on a quality improvement project at the end of their training. By expanding nurses' view of the transition process through the eyes of patients, families and caregivers, they typically experience an “aha” moment that crystallizes why transitions go wrong – and how to improve them through better communication.  

Based on the positive results from our pilot projects we are now expanding implementation of CTEP in Massachusetts with three regional cross-continuum teams to further evaluate its impact on reducing health care costs and improving patient satisfaction. This new work is funded by a Health Care Workforce Transformation Fund grant through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The grant program is administered by Commonwealth Corporation.  We have launched a website, www.CareTransitionsEducation.org with information and full free access to our interactive training curriculum.

Our wide ranging partnerships have expanded our capacity to positively impact long term care residents and staff.  As we look to the future, we know that building new partnerships is essential to advancing the mission and legacy established thirty years ago.  

Carolyn Blanks is the executive director at the Massachusetts Senior Care Foundation.

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