Written by Elizabeth Ecker for ALFA Update 


As the aging population expands to rely more heavily each year on assisted living, advocacy for the industry has become increasingly important. Today’s providers are seeking informed and educated lawmaking that will best benefit the senior population they serve.

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While ALFA works with representatives in Washington, D.C. on an ongoing basis to address assisted living regulations, ALFA also hosts an annual “fly-in” for its members. This allows members to gain face time with representatives and educate them on the most current issues facing senior living businesses. This year’s event is coming up on September 17-18, 2013, with registration now open

“The ALFA staff advocates on behalf of our members on [Capitol] Hill all year long, but this one day we bring people from all over the country so they can meet with their elected officials,” says Maribeth Bersani, Senior Vice President of Public Policy for ALFA. “They can tell their stories better than we can.”

Mapping the cause

The ALFA Advocacy Fly-In, which has taken place every year for the last 10—and counting—gathers dozens of senior living executives, owners, operators and employees to Washington D.C for a two-day training boot camp and meeting with elected officials. 

ALFA prepares all attendees with talking points and training in advance of the meetings. 
“Some folks may think about coming to D.C. as intimidating,” says Justin Worrell, Assistant Director of Government Relations for ALFA. “But it’s our job to arm them with the facts and figures going in to the meetings. They find out it’s actually a fun event.” 
As one fun element, ALFA provides pedometers for those who attend so that they can track the number of steps they complete walking the halls of Congress, to and from meetings around “the Hill.” 
Those facts and figures they are prepped with may include education on the difference in terms describing independent living versus assisted living as well as who assisted living providers are, the population they serve and the way they are regulated. 
They also cover current assisted living resident demographics; appropriate senior living terminology; average assisted living costs; and senior living business and labor issues. 
“Assisted living is unique when compared to different organizations,” Worrell says. “Our top priority is to educate lawmakers that assisted living is regulated at the state level, because often we are lumped in with other communities [that are regulated federally].” 
ALFA members large and small have attended the fly-in, with newcomers each year as well as longtime attendees spanning executive directors of communities to C-suite executives of some of the largest providers. 
“This event allows us to showcase the residents we serve,” says Michael Pochowski, manager of Government Affairs & Legal Operations for Brookdale Senior Living. “At times, we also meet with representatives and staff who might have family members who are residing in assisted living communities and that helps promote the conversation. ALFA provides great talking points and training to help facilitate the event.”
 

Following up 

The meetings with elected state officials as well as their staff members presents a unique opportunity for providers to stress the most important assisted living regulations and federal regulations impacting business this year. 

It’s also a chance to increase visibility, presence and influence with legislators among the senior living industry as a whole. 

But the participation doesn’t end with the meetings. Many providers have found as a result of past fly-ins, their elected officials have come to communities for on-site visits and to see firsthand the work they’re doing and the assistance lawmakers can provide. 

“It helps to educate the representatives and staff members but also when you’re able to have a representative and then their staff visit a community, it’s very rewarding for everyone involved,” Pochowski says. “For residents and families, that’s one of the positive aspects of these advocacy efforts.” 

The follow-up starts with a simple email or note, but can set the stage for a future of legislative efforts, Bersani says. 

“We really want to start a relationship,” she says. “While this is one day, we tell providers they need to be advocates all year-round. Some have met with the same [representatives] year after year. It really works. This should lay the groundwork for advocacy 365 days a year.” 

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