LaShuan Bethea speaking
“Our assisted living communities are working hard to care for residents every day,” NCAL Executive Director LaShuan Bethea said Sunday at NCAL Day. (Photo courtesy of AHCA/NCAL)

NASHVILLE, TN — As assisted living providers continue to experience an “unprecedented workforce crisis right now,” the issue tops the list of five priorities for the National Center for Assisted Living, the association’s executive director, LaShuan Bethea, JD, MEd, BSN, RN, said Sunday.

“Our assisted living communities are working hard to care for residents every day, but issues like a workforce shortage make their noble work much more challenging,” she said during NCAL Day, noting that workforce shortages are the biggest factor affecting communities’ ability to accept new admissions.

In addition to workforce issues, Bethea said, NCAL’s other priorities include:

  • COVID-19 recovery. Assisted living providers are averaging five percentage points below average pre-pandemic occupancy levels — 80% today compared with 84% to 85.7% before the pandemic — but up from a pandemic average low of 73% to 75% in March 2021, Bethea said, sharing occupancy statistics from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care and Direct Supply.
  • Protecting state-based assisted living regulation so that “all stakeholders have a seat at the table to ensure the needs of the individuals that reside in assisted living are considered.” Bethea also noted that last month, NCAL released its 2022 Assisted Living State Regulatory Review, which showed that almost two-thirds of states have updated their assisted living regulations, statutes and policies.
  • Protecting Medicaid home- and community-based services, including advocacy related to rates, the expansion of the number of states that have waivers as a funding option for assisted living to offer HCBS, and the inclusion of assisted living in any HCBS-related federal funding coming to states.
  • Participation in quality and data solutions, including the AHCA / NCAL Quality Awards program.

NCAL Board Chair Gerald Hamilton, MBA, president and CEO of the Hamilton Management Group, also encouraged attendees to focus on quality, noting that 29 assisted living providers earned Bronze awards and six earned Silver awards in the most recent year of NCAL’s Quality Awards program.

He also encouraged attendees to get the word out about the industry.

“We need to tell our story. …More people need to understand what we offer our residents,” Hamilton said. Potential workers, Hamilton added, need to hear that assisted living providers “focus on the treatment of staff as well as the treatment of residents.”

Apprenticeship programs another tool for recruitment, retention

In a separate session in the workforce-focused event, Bethea said that registered apprenticeship programs can provide assisted living providers an opportunity to introduce more potential full-time workers to communities, where they can see the benefits that operators provide to older adults and their families.

“Workforce is one of those things where we have to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks,” she said. “We found apprenticeship programs are one of those things that stick.”

Registered apprenticeship programs can help senior living employers develop highly skilled staff members, reduce turnover, increase productivity and lower recruitment costs, speaker Michelle Day, national director at Equus Workforce Solutions, told attendees. NCAL and the American Health Care Association have partnered with Equus to offer long-term care internship programs.

As a national workforce development service provider serving as an intermediary with the US Department of Labor, Equus works with employers — at no cost — to build and launch apprenticeship programs. The company also collaborates with state apprenticeship agencies, connects job seekers to apprenticeship opportunities, connects employers to career centers, hosts hiring events and industry training sessions, and provides technical assistance.

Among the apprenticeship programs approved at the national level include those for certified nursing assistants, direct support professional leads, licensed practical nurses, medical assistants and personal care aides.

Apprenticeship programs won’t solve the workforce crisis, Day said, but they are another option in providers’ toolbox. Apprenticeship programs, she added, help providers package existing recruiting efforts into an improved industry standard. And workers can graduate from the programs with a nationally recognized industry credential from the Labor Department.

NCAL Day included more sessions and awards

Other NCAL Day sessions highlighted creating transformational leadership, removing drama from the workforce and promoting positive working relationships.

2022 NCAL Award winners
NCAL Award winners, from left, Barbara Quezada, Doreen Locke and Nicole Ellis celebrate. (Photo courtesy of AHCA/NCAL)

During a luncheon, 2022 NCAL Award recipients were recognized:

  • NCAL Administrator of the Year Nicole Ellis of the Cottages of Middleton in Idaho; 
  • NCAL Assisted Living Nurse of the Year Doreen Locke, RN, DON, from Odd Fellows’ and Rebekah’s Home of Maine in Auburn, ME; 
  • NCAL Noble Caregiver in Assisted Living Barbara Quezada of Beehive Homes of Taylor Ranch in Albuquerque, NM.

Rod Burkett, co-founder and CEO of Gardant Management Solutions in Illinois, also received NCAL’s Jan Thayer Pioneer Award.

According to NCAL, more than 200 people attended NCAL Day, with more than 3,100 registered for the full AHCA / NCAL Annual Convention & Expo, which starts today and lasts through Wednesday.