Michelle Northey headshot
Michelle Northey

COVID-19 has changed the material nature of the workforce forever. The implications are wide-ranging, affecting a large swath of industries. Senior living and care is not immune from challenges in efforts to attract caregivers and other employees.

With newfound empowerment brought about by the “Great Resignation” and resulting labor shortages, employees have the upper hand like they have not before in recent memory. Long-term care workers want greater flexibility in their schedules, the ability to dictate where they work and how they get paid, and so on.

The future of work is here and now, and the long-term care industry needs a jump start. Owners and operators have been slow to embrace technology that supports today’s generation of caregivers, in part because they’ve been so focused on resident care. Infusing technology and automation ultimately can improve caregiver engagement, deliver a better experience for residents and positively affect the bottom line.

So why hasn’t investment in workforce technology been a priority until now for some operators? Reasons vary. 

For starters, senior living communities already are understaffed and overwhelmed as they struggle to meet the influx of demand. Residential care facilities and nursing homes have lost almost 13% of their workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the industry continues to grapple with historic staffing challenges. Those challenges are compounded by a rapidly growing older adult population, creating a mismatch between supply and demand.

Secondly, providers always have been focused resident care and services. Particularly in higher-needs settings, the quality of care and services is a high priority for residents and their families, not necessarily technology prowess. By supporting the caregivers who are responsible for providing those services and care, however, operators will be able to maintain or improve their reputations.

Finally, senior living historically has been less reliant on innovation as a competitive differentiator compared with other industries or segments of healthcare That’s beginning to change with a plethora digital health offerings. Now, it’s about offering the most innovative solutions while investing in the people delivering high-quality care and services.

Collectively, the reasons for overlooking technology and not investing in tools to support caregivers seem legitimate and plausible. Workforce technology, however, actually can enable providers to improve or maintain high-quality care and services. By addressing the needs of the today’s workers and offering more flexibility, less data administration, and greater work/life balance, owners and operators will experience better employee retention, higher levels of care, and the objective assessments of their businesses that lead to stable financial success. 

Leveraging workforce management technology will enable innovative operators to manage staff members and compete for talent. By offering caregivers the ability to manage their work schedules, eliminate laborious manual processes and lean on digitization in their day-to-day jobs, providers can keep existing employees happy, reduce turnover, attract new workers in a hotly competitive environment, and preserve — or greatly improve — their standing with residents and families.

Technology will reduce the administrative chore that typically falls on the shoulders of caregivers, potentially leading to frustration and burnout. It also will greatly improve staff experiences by providing them with work flexibility and agile schedules, a reduction in administrative tasks, and the ability to focus more on residents.

The takeaway is this: There is an inextricable link between the changing expectations of caregivers, technology and the ability to deliver high-quality care and services. Some providers have been reluctant to invest in workforce technology haven’t seen the business need for it or simply haven’t made it a priority, but they will need to change that mindset now if they expect to have any chance of attracting the current generation of workers.

Michelle Northey is chief product officer at SmartLinx, which she joined in October 2021. She brings more than 25 years of experience in the human capital management industry. Before joining SmartLinx, she was chief product officer at benefitexpress, where she built a product strategy function and was a member of the executive leadership team responsible for the sale of the company. Previously, she held various product leadership positions at ADP and Willis Towers Watson. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, and her Master of Science degree in information systems from Roosevelt University, Chicago.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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