By the middle of next year, both the Tucson, Ariz.-based Commission on Accreditation of Facilities (CARF) and the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) could have new, voluntary assisted-living accreditation programs up and running.

Last month, the Washington, D.C.-based American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) sent its members a comparative summary of the two organizations' recently released accreditation standards. The standards are likely to change following the field-review process, which allows interested parties to comment on and critique the standards over a set time period.

In general, JCAHO's and CARF's draft standards are similar. For each assisted-living facility seeking accreditation, JCAHO would charge a total of $2,500 for application and materials fees, and a $3,000 accreditation fee. CARF's application and materials fees would run only $750, but the organization would charge $1,000 per day, per surveyor in accreditation costs. Both organizations would use assisted-living industry members to conduct the accreditation surveys.

JCAHO would only award a three-year, full accreditation, while CARF would have three accreditation levels. CARF could grant a three-year, full accreditation. But CARF could also grant provisional accreditation for one year, after which it could grant a second provisional year.

ASHA's "has not endorsed either accreditation program and believes our objectivity will benefit" those in the assisted-living industry, according to its summary.

Two industry members have interesting comments. Alfred Holbrook, CEO of Atlanta-based EdenCare Assisted Living, says an independent accreditation process would give consumers "an assurance that a community has undergone a quality review process that they can rely on." But accreditation must be "hospitality driven," he adds. "It's just as important that the landscaping is clean, the floor is clean and associates are friendly as whether the utensils being used in the kitchen are sanitary."

Whitney Redding, director of media/public relations at ALFA, says seeking and obtaining independent accreditation "will show consumers that the industry is interested in quality assurance, and it lets providers take a look at themselves," she says.

It's tough to disagree. As long as accreditation standards are fair, the process can only help providers and customers. It will provide customers with a level of comfort that the facility they're looking at or living in is up to par. Also, it will help providers in marketing and public relations, and give providers an independent critique of their properties.