Assisted living (AL) is a relatively new form of long-term care that offers residents personal care services and more independence in a home-like environment. Introduced to the United States in the 1980s, AL is changing the conventional thinking about how to care for frail older adults. One important issue to explore is registered nurse (RN) delegation to unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP), particularly for medication administration. This study provides a national perspective on medication delivery in AL settings from the perspectives of state Board of Nursing (BON) executives. Qualitative interviews using semi-structured interview guides were conducted with BON executives to validate a legal summary of AL regulations and nurse practice acts, and to identify nursing issues pertaining to medication management in AL across the United States. In this study, there was considerable variation across states regarding medication administration and the role of both the RN and the UAP. BON executives displayed a range of knowledge about nursing practice issues in AL, with many reporting low familiarity with this setting. Mechanisms for systematic review of quality of delegation were not in place. Medication administration and nurse delegation were dynamic issues, with practice and policy evolving concurrently. This study highlights the limited articulation of policies between agencies and across states in the important and growing setting of assisted living. Nurses have the opportunity to shape this evolving practice arena and to enhance awareness of the professional and clinical issues inherent in working with UAP in medication delivery.
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We gratefully acknowledge the American Nurses Foundation and the Office for the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation of the US Department of Health and Human Services for their support of this research. We thank Gina Aalgaard Kelly at the University of Minnesota for her assistance in conducting interviews. Finally, we thank all those who participated in this study.