Differentiate your community through activities

With the arrival of baby boomers into long-term care (LTC) communities, demands for high-quality amenities and social opportunities are greater than ever before. Communities that can meet these increased expectations are more likely to thrive.

“It is time for us to expand our current way of thinking about how we differentiate ourselves from others,” says Sean Mockbee, NHA, managing partner of Sunshine Village Assisted Living, a Viewpoint Senior Care Community in Phoenix. Activities is one way to do that, he says, and certified activity professionals have met stringent criteria to ensure that they can provide programs that stand out.

“Gone are the days of viewing activities as something to keep people busy and something that any smiling person can lead,” Mockbee says. These days, he adds, a systematically designed program of activities offers two main benefits:

  1. Improved quality of life for residents.

Your community can offer the best care possible, but without a great activity program, it could experience an increase in depression, inappropriate behaviors, anxiety and complaints from residents. Certified activity professionals have learned a person-centered approach that enables them to complete extensive, comprehensive assessments for all residents to learn what is important to each of them and how they want to be involved with the community, thus potentially avoiding some physical and mental health issues.

  1. Additional marketing opportunities for the community.

Photos and written accounts of creative or unique activities can be shared via your website and social media channels, adding potential word-of-mouth public relations and marketing to your more traditional efforts. Many of the activities even may garner media attention that you solicit directly or indirectly. Also, activities through which residents participate in events taking place in the greater community—for instance, car shows, fairs, motorcycle poker runs, boutiques, spaghetti dinners, bake sales and carnival—enable those in the larger community, including prospective residents and their families, to see how happy and active current residents are.


One day, certification of activity professionals may be required. This year, for instance, the state of Delaware mandated that all individuals working in long-term care in activities be nationally certified.

Those communities that support certification among their activity professionals now will find it easier to meet future requirements and can take pride in being able to say that they long have recognized the benefits of certification. Such certification for activity professionals can be quite costly and time-intensive, however, so consider making training and related expenses a line item in the appropriate budget, and factor in time to enable professionals to meet requirements related to education, work experience, continuing education (CE) and competency.

In some credentialing agencies, the individual must complete a specific course as part of the process. Once certified, the professional must continue to meet CE requirements by attending conferences, workshops or seminars provided by state health associations, healthcare companies, state activity associations or corporations. Alternatively, professionals may take advantage of online education through DVDs, self-study programs or live chats. Regardless of the method, however, education helps inform professionals of new programming ideas, trends and changes with regulations.

Investing in your activities professionals by helping them become certified yields several benefits for your community. In addition to the aforementioned benefits, it:

  • Increases staffing credibility among peers and prospective residents and families,
  • Assures surveyors that you require high standards, and
  • Helps ensure that activity staff members are up to date in their knowledge and meeting their CE requirements.


Two entities specifically certify activity professionals who work with the elderly:

  1. the National Association of Activity Professionals Credentialing Center, through which individuals can become board-certified activity professionals (AP-BC) or consultant-educators (AC-BC), and
  2. the National Certification Council for Activity Professionals, through which individuals can become certified activity assistants (AAC), certified activity directors (ADC) or certified activity consultants (ACC) or seek other types of certification.

The AP-BC, AC-BC, ADC and ACC certifications are recognized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under F-Tag 249.

Other professionally certified individuals also can work with the elderly:

  • State certification. Some states offer a state activity certification after an individual has successfully passed a state-approved course.
  • Recreation. Certified therapeutic recreation specialists meet the requirements of the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification and also are recognized under the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) F-Tag 249.
  • Dementia. The National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners (NCCDP) offers several levels of certification that focus on working with those who have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia (see Long-Term Living’s interview with NCCDP Executive Director Sandra Stimson). To apply for NCCDP’s certifications, you must have a current certification or license in a healthcare-related profession. The NCCDP’s most common certification is the CDP, or certified dementia practitioner, which can be obtained only after attending a one-day seminar.
  • Music and art therapy. Some communities may hire a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC) or a registered art therapist (ART or ART-BC). These individuals may work with the senior population, and some also seek an activity professional certification because it is specific to working with the elderly and is recognized under the CMS F-Tag 249 if the individual chooses to work in a Medicare/Medicaid skilled care community.

Debbie Bouknight, AC-BC, ACC, CDP, is director of outreach and re-certification for the NAAP Credentialing Center. With 27 years of experience in activities in long-term care, she works for Lexington Medical Center Extended Care in Lexington, SC, a 388-bed skilled care home where she oversees 10 activity coordinators.


Brenda Scott, AC-BC, ADC, is office manager of the NAAP Credentialing Center. An activity professional for more than 25 years, she also holds a certificate in gerontology.



Related content:

Beyond Bingo: Activity director role evolves

CCRC's intergenerational program featured on national TV

Topics: Activities , Articles , Executive Leadership