The Wisconsin Partnership Program’s community grants address a wide range of health issues facing various populations groups within our state. One community and academic partnership team is focusing its five-year, $1 million Community Impact Grant on ensuring that our rapidly growing population of seniors living in assisted living communities has access to high quality care.

The Improving Assisted Living through Collaborative Systems Change project is expanding and enhancing access to the Wisconsin Coalition for Collaborative Excellence in Assisted Living, or WCCEAL, an established and test quality improvement infrastructure.

WCCEAL is a public-private coalition that that brings together the state’s programs, assisted living facilities, consumers, and academicians, in a joint effort to identify and implement approaches to improving health outcomes in assisted living communities.

Many of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable senior citizens live in assisted living communities. Most of them are 75 years or older, need help with two or three daily living activities such as bathing, taking medications, dressing, going to the bathroom or eating, and many have multiple chronic conditions like hypertension or dementia. These individuals are grandparents, parents, neighbors and loved ones who need complex help.

A man plays a piano
Willard Lund (right), a resident of Skaalen Assisted Living in Stoughton, Wisconsin, and caregiver Delores Hayes enjoy a moment at Lund’s piano. Skaalen is one of more than 400 assisted living facilities that participate in the Wisconsin Coalition for Collaborative Excellence in Assisted Living (WCCEAL).

In Wisconsin, assisted living is growing at a rapid pace, with fewer of these seniors living in nursing homes, and more now living in assisted living communities. Although nursing homes are subject to strict federal and state regulations surrounding their quality of care, there is limited oversight and support for assisted living sites.

Assisted living communities that participate in WCCEAL use quality improvement programs approved by Wisconsin Department of Health Services and researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Coalition participants have access to secure, interactive data that allows them to compare themselves to similar facilities; to benchmark their data using shared quality indicators such as resident satisfaction, hospital readmissions, falls with injury, influenza cases; and to measure their progress toward quality improvement goals.

“WCCEAL provides the tools and reports the communities need to implement internal quality assurance and quality improvement throughout their systems, and ultimately, to help them achieve better outcomes for their residents,” says David Zimmerman, PhD, UW-Madison Professor Emeritus and former CHRSA director.

The innovative collaborative includes the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Wisconsin state ombudsman’s program, four assisted living and residential provider associations, and the Center for Health Systems Research and Analysis (CHSRA), a University of Wisconsin-Madison research center. Currently, more than 430 assisted living communities are participating in the coalition, but this represents only 11 percent of the facilities in the state. This project aims to ensure that more assisted living residents have access to quality care by expanding the number of participating communities.

Kevin Coughlin of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services says, “By expanding the coalition’s reach, we can make tremendous headway in improving care for more of Wisconsin’s seniors.”

In 2017, this effort received an award from the Pioneer Institute’s Better Government competition for excellence in long-term care.