Many senior living organizations are paying a high price for cutting corners

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

We often hear that the strength of a chain is determined by its weakest link. Does it similarly follow that a senior living community's reputation rides with its worst aide?

I think so. But judging by the way many aides are trained and treated, the sentiment is not exactly universal.

Aides are the backbone of this field. They literally do the heavy lifting, plus a lot of other tasks that keep senior living residents healthy and happy. The latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows how prevalent they have become.

Aides accounted for 76% of all staffing hours in these communities in 2016, according to data appearing in the CDC's May 4 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

By comparison, activities staff members accounted for 10% of staffing hours, registered nurses totaled 7%, licensed practical or vocational nurses were at 6% and social workers tallied 1%, the report notes.

You'd think that given their central role, aides would be treated like the stars of the show. Ha!

In fact, at too many senior living organizations, they are consistently treated like, well, the help.

“Oh no John! That's not true at our community! Here, they are treated like valued team members.”

Really? What's the name of that team, Rank Has Privilege?

Which of your valued team members receive the lowest pay? Uh huh.

And which team members have the least amount of knowledge about what their days and hours will be like during the next few months? Uh huh.

Finally, which team members are most likely to be working someplace else at this time next year? Uh huh.

“But John, you just don't understand. The competition is fierce these days. And labor costs are our highest expense. We'd love to pay aides more and provide better benefits, but we simply can't.”

I see. Did your organization just get a multimillion dollar tax windfall? Do you send the folks at the top to meetings and other conventions the firm pays for? Do the top dogs get sweeteners that the worker bees are completely unaware of? Are these perks off-limits for your aides?

Yes John, but it's not that simple. We need to offer more to get talent at the top.

Okay, I get it. Times are tough. But if you are going to tell the world that your people are your greatest asset, now might be a good time to put up or shut up. Especially when it comes to the people who do some of the hardest work in the building.

Or at least set aside a generous sum for future recruitment efforts. For in case you haven't noticed, the folks you are paying a bit more than minimum wage have a lot more employment options to choose from these days.

If none of what I just wrote applies to your organization, congratulations. If not, then maybe it's time for some overdue soul-searching.

Or better yet, save time and simply heed the advice of Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson: Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they won't want to.

That goes for the aides, too.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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