Development of a Program to Support VA Community Living Centers’ Quality Improvement

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Through implementation of the LOCK bundle of practices, VA Community Living Center staff develop, pilot, and spread new systems for communication, teamwork, and collaborative problem solving as well as for developing skills to participate effectively in these systems.



US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Community Living Centers (CLCs) provide a dynamic array of long- and short-term health and rehabilitative services in a person-centered environment designed to meet the individual needs of veteran residents. The VA Office of Geriatrics and Extended Care (GEC) manages CLCs as part of its commitment to “optimizing the health and well-being of veterans with multiple chronic conditions, life-limiting illness, frailty or disability associated with chronic disease, aging or injury.”1

CLCs are home to veterans who require short stays before going home, as well as those who require longer or permanent domicile. CLCs also are home to several special populations of veterans, including those with spinal cord injury and those who choose palliative or hospice care. CLCs have embraced cultural transformation, creating therapeutic environments that function as real homes, with the kitchen at the center, and daily activities scheduled around the veterans’ preferences. Data about CLC quality are now available to the public, highlighting the important role of support for and continual refinement to quality improvement (QI) processes in the CLC system. 2,3


High-functioning teams are critical to achieving improvement in such processes.4 In fiscal year (FY) 2017, GEC launched a national center to engage and support CLC staff in creating high-functioning, relationship-based teams through specific QI practices, thereby aiming to improve veteran experience and quality of care. The center, known as the CLCs’ Ongoing National Center for Enhancing Resources and Training (CONCERT), is based on extensive VA-funded research in CLCs5-7 and builds on existing, evidence-based literature emphasizing the importance of strengths-based learning, collaborative problem solving, and structured observation.8-13 The CONCERT mission is to support CLCs in ongoing QI efforts, providing guidance, training, and resources. This article summarizes the previous research on which CONCERT is based and describes its current activities, which focus on implementing a national team-based quality improvement initiative.

Earlier VA-funded CLC research included a VA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation local innovation project and 2 VA Office of Research and Development-funded research studies. The local innovation project focused on strengthening staff leadership and relational skills in 1 CLC by engaging leaders and staff in collaborative work to reduce stress. The goal was to build high-functioning team skills through shared projects that created positive work experiences and reduced job-related stress while also improving veteran experience and quality of care.14,15 Over the course of a year, 2 national consultants in nursing home quality improvement worked with CLC leadership and staff, including conducting nine 4-day site visits. Using an approach designed to foster development of high-functioning teams, individual CLC neighborhoods (ie, units) developed and implemented neighborhood-initiated, neighborhood-based pilot projects, such as an individualized finger foods dining option for residents with dementia who became distressed when sitting at a table during a meal. Outcomes of these projects included improved staff communication and staff satisfaction, particularly psychological safety.

In the concurrently conducted pilot research study, a research team comprehensively assessed the person-centered care efforts of 3 CLCs prior to their construction of Green House-type (small house) homes. This mixed-methods study included more than 50 qualitative interviews conducted with VA medical center leadership and CLC staff and residents. Researchers also administered online employee surveys and conducted site visits, including more than 60 hours of direct observation of CLC life and team functioning. The local institutional review boards approved all study procedures, and researchers notified local unions.

Analyses highlighted 2 important aspects of person-centered care not captured by then-existing measurement instruments: the type, quality, and number of staff/resident interactions and the type, quality, and level of resident engagement. The team therefore developed a structured, systematic, observation-based instrument to measure these concepts.5 But while researchers found this instrument useful, it was too complex to be used by CLC staff for QI.

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