Ask any senior living operator what fuels the most semi-sleepless nights, and you’d best settle in for a lengthy conversation.
From COVID-19’s massive destruction, to tougher competition, to increased regulatory oversight, to more lawsuits, to higher insurance costs and more, the list goes on. It also seems to grow by the day.
But there is a first among equals: staffing. As in, there are seemingly never enough people available to do the work that must be done.
Given the baked-in economics of this business, the shortage is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
It’s probably wishful thinking to hope for a one-stop solution that makes the problem go away. Instead, what we are more likely to encounter are less-than-perfect piecemeal fixes that provide temporary relief.
A possible example of the latter was served up this week — again — by Sen. John Thune. The South Dakota Republican reintroduced legislation intended to free up thousands of additional H-2B guest worker visas in states with low unemployment rates. This is in addition to the annual 66,000 visa cap now in effect.
For the unfamiliar, the H-2B visa program lets employers hire foreign workers to come here temporarily for a work-related reason.
To be sure, the Prioritizing Help to Business Act is not exactly new to the party. Thune has either introduced or co-sponsored different iterations of the bill five times before, starting in 2005. Whether the sixth time will be the charm remains very much an open question.
For starters, it offers temporary help at best. And given how unemployment rates have spiked in the past year, only a few states would currently qualify (although that likely will change as the nation presumably recovers from the pandemic).
Critics also point out that this legislation essentially is a bandage for a problem that requires surgery. Fair enough. But a few slices of bread can look pretty good when the alternative is starvation.
This legislation hardly is a cure-all. But given the challenge before us, any measure that helps expand the pool of possible job candidates can only help. And it looks like operators can use all the help they can get.