As we approach milestone moments—whether it be an important birthday or life event—it’s natural to reflect on what has come before. Next year, CALA will celebrate its 20th anniversary. With that in mind, the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) recently interviewed president Sally Michael on CALA’s history and what makes for a successful organization. According to the ALFA article, “CALA works hard to educate the public, lawmakers and others about assisted living.” The article continues:
“It’s an ongoing priority,” Michael says. “If people have no context, having not touched it or felt it, the brain tends to think of skilled nursing.” Michael added that it’s become a “huge priority” to invite policymakers into any of the more than 500 assisted living communities that CALA represents. CALA also hosts an assisted living advocacy day when members visit Sacramento to speak with lawmakers. “Those meetings are really important. Then as a follow-up, there’s nothing like getting policymakers into your community. That’s a critical component.”
Fostering Relationships on All Levels of Government
In California, term limits result in a lot of state lawmaker turnover, which makes education an ongoing challenge but she noted that many state legislators come from local governments. “A council member or mayor who may be today doesn’t have any direct oversight may some day be in Sacramento in the capitol,” says Michael, adding that it’s good to foster relationships at all levels of government.
CALA employs an in-house policy expert and a contract lobbyist who works to educate lawmakers in the capitol year-round. “It’s important to develop these relationships day in and day out,” she said. “When there are issues that come up, you’ve got a limited time in front of these folks and not a lot of time to fill in the back story. A constant, good relationship supports that solid foundation.”
That’s important because in California, the nation’s third largest state by size and highest state population at 37.7 million, there’s a lot going on in public policy. This year, there were 18 active bills affecting assisted living. “We worked very hard and were able to positively impact all of the bills. It helped that our reputation at the capitol and with Licensing is to be collaborative and solution-oriented with a willingness to work toward the best outcomes,” she says.
CALA board member MBK Senior Living COO Danielle Morgan called the CALA staff “outstanding,” and the group a “class act organization that is 100 percent focused and committed in advocating for our industry.” She added that CALA’s board includes presidents and CEOs who are “leading the charge with the right level of strategic thinking,” which greatly helps the group navigate any difficult situations that might arise. “It’s great to have C-suite executives on the board. There’s a different level of commitment when it’s their own companies.”
Spearheading an Active and Successful 2014
CALA was pleased that the governor signed bills to increase staff and administrator training as well as increased civil penalties for the most serious situations. The state’s 2014-15 budget added funding for 71 new positions at the Community Care Licensing Division and $7.5 million to fund stronger oversight including training for inspectors and their managers.
Additionally, through great effort, CALA was able to dramatically alter a trial attorney-sponsored bill, which initially would have resulted in “drive-by” lawsuits targeting assisted living communities, said Michael. Ultimately the bill was amended to become a resident rights bill and CALA supported it. However, not every bill is a win. Michael expressed disappointment over the failure of a bill to institute annual licensing inspections of assisted living communities, but said they plan to try again next year.
To support members’ community outreach, CALA has developed a set of tools that help discuss assisted living. “As a trade organization, our goal is not to promote a particular provider but assisted living overall. We’re trying to help members carry that educational message – don’t just talk about your community but also what assisted living is all about.” The group offers sample short speeches with PowerPoint presentations to help members establish themselves as experts in their community.
The group hosts two major conferences – one in northern California and the other in southern, with more than 600 attendees each. The conferences offer three days of high-quality programming thanks to staff support and a CALA Education Committee made up of up to 20 members from across various disciplines. Board member Morgan said the level of education is top quality and a “key to CALA’s success.” The group also offers a biweekly electronic communication to members and a quarterly print publication, CALA News & Views.
“Communication and outreach is key,” Michael says. “Assisted living is still a fairly new industry, and educating the broader community about what we do in a proactive manner is really very important.”