James Berklan

This is going to sound terribly wrong on the face of it. There’s no way around it. It appears that the nation’s largest association of nursing home operators has just bought itself a whole lot of credibility.

I mean that only in a good way. That’s what you’ll get with the pledge of $1 million for the creation of a new think tank at an Ivy League university.

The American Health Care Association put its money where its mouth was late last week, when it announced a new partnership with Brown University. The new Long Term Care Quality and Innovation Center will be a part of the Brown University School of Public Health.

The goal is to research and test best practices to improve long-term and post-acute delivery of care. Then it’s to get those ideas into widespread practice.

Brown’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research has long produced remarkable studies dealing with the long-term care profession. [A quick search for “Brown University” at mcknights.com yields a healthy list of stories.] This $1 million infusion, to be spread over three years, should kick-start a lot more. At least that’s the earnest hope among the halls of both Brown and AHCA/NCAL.

“There are a lot of unknowns out there in assisted living and nursing homes,” AHCA quality guru David Gifford, M.D., acknowledged Tuesday. “This is really an effort to match up with a respected academic university to do rigorous evaluations, to not only identify and evaluate effective technological practices and innovative approaches, but to disseminate them nationally. One of our challenges has been how to take things to scale.”

The hope now is that more funding will flow in — from foundations, vendor sources and government entities, Gifford told me.

The $1 million is “an investment that will provide resources that no one can do on their own, to lead to better care,” he added.

I asked him for examples of what the new center might lead to, and he quickly rattled off a list. One hope is that technology could be developed and disseminated to help lower medication-error and infection rates. Another real possibility is the development of better care practices that would lead to lower hospitalization rates.

Yet another major thrust could focus on management and leadership as they relate to staffing and turnover issues.

There should be no shortage of competition for the center’s time, money and highly educated human resources.

The new center will be governed by a seven-person advisory board, Gifford noted, clarifying earlier information that said there would be just five. Three members will be from the Brown faculty, three from AHCA and one will be an “at-large” member. 

In anticipation of skeptics — that will surely pop up in one form or another somewhere down the road — Gifford wasted no time cashing in on his new Ivy League partner’s reputation. Gifford himself is still a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown who gives guest lectures on long-term care, and he arrived at AHCA after six years as the director at the Rhode Island Department of Health. 

“Brown’s an academic university and they would not sign on, nor would any other university, if there was any sort of censorship or limitations with any of the findings or issues,” he explained. “It’s a nice partnership.

“We want to be sure that the time and money have an impact on the residents we care for — and we want to make sure it’s for something that works,” he quickly added, referring to recent research that questioned the effectiveness of some alarm and fall-prevention services. He said “more rigorous research” could help.

There are about a million new reasons why he’s closer than ever to getting his wish.

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Editor. Follow him @LTCEditorsDesk.