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ALFA chairs discuss past, present, future to mark 25th anniversary

May 5, 2015
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Insights from past and present Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) Board of Directors chairs kicked off the group’s 2015 annual meeting in Tampa, Fla., as the group celebrates its germination 25 years ago. Via in-person remarks or video, these leaders provided thoughts on the past, present and future of assisted living:

Paul Klaassen, the body’s founding chair, who served in the position from 1992 to 1994, recalled how ALFA was formed to represent the companies now known as assisted living providers in Washington, DC. Klaassen, who founded Sunrise Senior Living with his wife, Terry, said that, at the time, he wrote to 20 leaders of pioneering assisted living organizations, and 19 of them expressed an interest in forming the group. Today, the need for advocacy is even greater, he said.

Rick Slater followed Klaassen as chair, from 1994 to 1996. “It is the mission that makes the industry, not the industry that creates the mission,” he told attendees via video. Slater’s successor, Bill Lask, also shared remarks via video.

Al Holbrook, who was ALFA chair from 1998 to 2000, said: “The revolution is not over,” adding that a challenge facing providers is “creating an environment that champions our lives and fulfills us.” He is chairman of Trinity Lifestyles Management.

Tom Grape, Benchmark Senior Living chairman and CEO and ALFA chair from 2003 to 2005, told attendees via video that he is proud that ALFA is “not just an industry association, but a movement.”

Steven Vick, the co-founder of Signature Senior Living and ALFA chair from 2005 to 2007, recalled that the organization became big and unfocused in the 2000s. Evrett Benton, founding partner of Stellar Senior Living and ALFA chair from 2007 to 2008, said he admired the small group of men and women who had a “stellar vision” that led to ALFA to become “the standard bearer of all that is good and right in the industry today.” Plans to offer credentialing, develop uniform standards and strengthen ties with partner organizations will help assisted living providers scale the next summit, Benton said.

Granger Cobb, who followed Benton as chair, remarked via video that senior living entitites now rival fine hotels. Technology and healthcare monitoring will expand options, he added. In the next 25 years, assisted living will become an integral part of the healthcare delivery system for seniors, the former Emeritus CEO and current Brookdale director predicted, helping to coordinate care across a variety of settings.

Tiffany Tomasso, founding partner of Kensington Senior Living and ALFA chair from 2008 to 2010, said that the defining characteristics of assisted living are the choice, dignity and independence it offers older adults.

Mark Ohlendorf, president and CEO of Brookdale and ALFA chair from 2011 to 2013, said that ALFA no longer is an assisted living group; it is a seniors housing group.

Brenda Bacon, president and CEO of Brandywine Senior Living, has led the board since 2013. The organization now has a more defined mission and work plan to deliver services to members, she said, and it’s redefining its relationships with state partners. “Our communities are not a home; they are home,” Bacon added.

As for the future, Bacon predicted that “our industry, 25 years from now, will be the predominant industry for helping families and seniors age well.”

Bacon called current and past board members to the stage, and they predicted more involvement in memory/dementia care as well as additional use of mobile technology in the future. Two new board members were announced on the first day of the meeting: John Moore, founder, chairman and CEO of Atria Senior Living, based in Louisville, Ky., and William Pettit, Jr., president and CEO of Merrill Gardens, based in Seattle, Wash.

ALFA President and CEO James Balda, also a board member, told those attending the opening session that this year’s gathering was the largest in the group’s history.

The session also featured presentation of the Best of the Best Award winners and an entertaining keynote speech by Gen. Colin Powell (Ret.). Powell delivered a similar address at the 2014 American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living annual meeting, a write-up of which is online here.