An Interview with Atria’s Chief Quality Officer
At Atria Senior Living, everything we do is driven by quality. Our number one goal is to make the best possible life for our residents. To deliver on that promise, we created Quality Enhancement program to ensure every aspect of life at our communities meets the highest standards in the industry.
Sean Purser, Atria’s Chief Quality Officer, has led our unique, industry-leading approach to quality since 2017. We sat down with him to learn more about Atria’s Quality Enhancement program and the role it plays in our communities.
Can you talk about how Atria’s Quality Enhancement (QE) program began?
Sean: When we decided to establish a Quality Enhancement program in 2004, our goal was to provide Atria residents with the highest level of service in the senior living industry. As well, with so many communities spread out across the country, we needed a universal set of auditable guidelines to ensure consistent quality from one community to the next.
To establish our standards, we began working with each department (Culinary, Maintenance, Care etc.), and reviewed what they considered the most important aspects. We then considered state regulations, safety components and a number of other factors. It was an extensive process which continues to this day. That first rollout was the genesis of what we now call Atria’s Quality Enhancement program which is like no other in our industry. In the end, we knew this would help us provide our residents with the best possible environment and communities.
Do you feel like Atria’s quality review process is unique in the industry?
Sean: Absolutely! There are quality measurement programs in senior assisted living, but no one has invested in a platform like Atria’s Quality Enhancement (QE) program. Atria’s QE program is unique in that it takes into consideration both clinical factors as well as the overall resident experience. Plus, we are very proactive when it comes to quality standards – we don’t wait for bad things to happen and then follow-up. We try to look ahead and prevent them.
We can do this because our quality evaluation tool is very agile and under constant review. This gives us the ability to change or add elements very easily and quickly see when we need to address something.
For instance, when the COVID pandemic began, we immediately shifted our audit focuses to an in-depth evaluation of our communities’ infection control practices. Having that kind of flexibility is one reason our QE program is so effective.
Another Atria difference is we dedicate a team of Quality Enhancement Directors (QED) to focus solely on performing quality audits. These QEDs do not report up operationally, they report through me to the Board of Directors. This structure gives us a level of independence from operations and a dedication not found in this industry. Our QED team also comes from proven individuals within Atria. All in, our team of QEDs has more than 200 years of experience with Atria. We are serious about investing in the quality of services we provide our residents.
I can go on about how rigorous our QE process is, but a better example would be how well our communities perform on State Regulatory Surveys. Each state has regulatory surveyors, or “auditors” as I like to say. These state surveyors audit Assisted Living communities in each state to ensure they are providing the appropriate care, services, and environment for residents. State surveys can be quite extensive and in a typical year, a community can expect to be surveyed several times by the state regulators. Since QE began in 2004, our communities have continually improved. In 2018, Atria communities have averaged less than one deficiency per state survey and we’ve continued to maintain that level of excellence.
J.D. Power ranked Atria Senior Living #1 in Customer Satisfaction among Assisted Living/Memory Care Communities in 2021. How are customer-driven recognitions and awards like this connected to Atria’s Quality Program in your mind?
Sean: We see good results from State Surveyors and our QE process, but this was especially gratifying to be recognized by J.D. Power. They went directly to our customers and having them “score” us as the best is a validation of our efforts. It has always made me proud to know we provide the best senior living environment in this industry, and this just proves it. In the end, customer satisfaction and safety are the most important aspect we can provide to our residents.
Could you talk more about the Quality Award?
Sean: Sure, Quality Awards can be earned when rigorous standards are met during the review and only our highest scorers earn the Q-Award. The higher the score the better and as I mentioned earlier, there is the potential for monetary bonuses that also includes frontline staff.
Does it get competitive?
Sean: Oh absolutely! We count on that. Our communities, regions and divisions all know where they stand. I often heap praise on those doing well and I will regularly challenge those that are not making the grade. I count on that sense of competition and pride in the Quality of Atria’s communities. We are consistently raising the bar to continue to be the best in this industry.
Tell us about your team’s work in packaging up the Atria Quality tool into Glennis Solutions’ suite of products for smaller senior living operators?
Sean: In 2020, we started working with the team at Glennis Solutions on building a Quality tool for their software suite that would bring a lot of what Atria has learned over the years to even more seniors who live in communities using Glennis’ business tools. It has been interesting to see how the work we’re doing with Glennis is helping us innovate our quality program and take it to the next level.
Glennis doesn’t share Atria’s indicators with other providers since they are proprietary to us. But their survey preparation tool includes questions that are regulatory in nature or specific to each individual brand. At the end of the day, we believe it is important to help others in our industry strive for what is already a part of Atria’s culture of quality.
What was your background before coming to Atria?
Sean: I spent 5 years in the United States Marine Corps, graduated the University of Louisville with an Accounting degree and I’ve been a CPA for more than 25 years. I’ve worked in Public Accounting as an auditor and I’ve held corporate roles as an Accountant, Controller and CFO. 15 years ago, I joined Atria’s accounting department and eventually became our Operations Controller. After 10 years in Accounting, I began as Atria’s Chief Quality Officer.
When I first joined our QE team, we had a very strong program, and my focus has been to continue to strive to find better ways to measure and improve the processes. I believe my audit background has helped us streamline processes which has given us the ability to provide the most accurate assessment possible in this industry.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Sean: Helping communities improve is the favorite part of our job. To see a team of employees, make the commitment to Quality and put everything into action drives us. It is an amazing feeling to see it when a community puts themselves in the running for a Quality Award.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about Atria’s approach to quality?
Sean: On behalf of our Quality Enhancement Team, I’d like everyone to know that we will never settle in our endeavors to guide our communities to the highest quality environments possible. That said, the reason Atria holds our communities to the highest quality standards in the senior living industry isn’t because it’s easy, it is because we believe our residents and their families deserve nothing less.