Although resident comfort and care are core concerns for senior living communities, the immense challenges of recruiting and retaining staff are center stage today for owners and administrators.
Robust and effective programs are needed to meet the growing need for career-minded employees. No one can disagree about the need; the path to achieve that goal, however, is open for debate.
It is important to understand the motivation of those entering the field to work as nurses, caregivers or in some other role, as well as the issues that have contributed to current staffing shortages. Working in a high-stress environment and pandemic-related burnout offer only a partial explanation for the current crisis.
Fact: Enrollment in nursing and related healthcare fields has been decreasing for years, perhaps decades. It is draining work, and compensation has not kept pace with other professional fields. Other healthcare workers, including licensed practical nurses, therapists and aides, are similarly underpaid and overworked.
The long-term care staffing crisis did not begin with COVID-19, but it was exacerbated by it. Now, we need to figure out what to do about it. It will not be eliminated simply by raising salaries, even if that were possible. But a combination of better benefits, more flexibility, innovative educational programs, advanced training, and positive reinforcement might become an antidote to the growing crisis.
It’s not totally about money
Although low pay, long hours, stress and lack of positive reinforcement can be major causes of job dissatisfaction, a recent study of today’s job-seekers puts performance evaluation and recognition above even the desire for competitive pay and benefits. Still, today, 64% of potential employees list salary as a critical factor.
Desired benefits today include healthcare benefits, but flexibility in scheduling and time off are also high on the list, perhaps precipitated by pandemic concerns and the shift to remote work options. Rounding out the list of top five things new employees seek are “corporate social responsibility,” flexibility and continuing opportunities for learning and personal development.
Potential employees, to a greater degree than ever before, want to be assured that their employer is committed to such things as sustainability, the environment, social justice and the welfare of the community and society as a whole. Other data suggests that employees of the future might opt for working fewer days each week but longer hours per shift. The goal among younger members of the workforce is to gain personal freedom, which allows for greater personal satisfaction and better work-life balance.
Finally, today’s employees want the opportunity to continue to learn, develop new skills and contribute more effectively. Employers who offer to partner with employees to achieve those goals have higher employee retention rates. Changing perceptions about work suggest that young people want to believe that they are adding value to the employer rather than just taking home a paycheck.
An innovative approach is in order for American healthcare providers. Just as numerous school districts and communities across the country have forged alliances with business and industry to supply workers in a variety of fields, long-term care providers might look to collaborative programs with local nursing schools, professional organizations and community colleges. It could be a transformative move.
Respect runs in both directions
Although employees consider it important to work for a respected company, a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Health Care Assistants listed the three major challenges as wages, staffing and respect, confirming that staff members want to feel valued for the work they do, no matter what their job title. That extends across the board, from licensed nurses to aides, dietary workers, therapists and maintenance personnel.
The statistics are sobering. Ninety-four percent of nursing homes faced staffing shortages in 2021, and 81% of assisted living communities faced similar shortages. Approximately 70% of adults over the age of 65 “will require some type of long-term care in their lifetimes,” based on information from a 2021 study conducted by the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living. There is little doubt that the need for trained employees is critical. Higher salaries and improved working conditions are paths to meeting the need.
A key issue is government subsidies for care, including the need to rethink and revamp Medicare and Medicaid. Such reform could offer care and the financial relief they seek. In some settings, funding increases could be instrumental in boosting caregiver wages and improving working conditions. Other areas that deserve discussion include regulatory policies, legislation, insurance, current inflation and the spiraling costs that affect us all.
It is clear that fragmentation exists both in the delivery of services and in payment systems today. Collaboration and integration are needed to help define and address problems, survey existing needs, set future goals, and forge long-term solutions. Little is more important in the current landscape of healthcare.
The goal is to offer a system of “seamless care” that is “accessible, effective, efficient, and affordable” for all our citizens.
Jason Zuccari is vice president of development and external relations at Hamilton Insurance Agency, where he maintains client relationships, potential clients and leads Hamilton Insurance Agency’s marketing and branding efforts. He serves on the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care’s Future Leaders Council, has earned a commercial lines coverage specialist designation from the Hartford School of Insurance and has shared his business expertise on Bloomberg, Forbes, Mashable, NBC and CNET.
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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