(Photo: Brookdale Senior Living)

One senior living provider is banking on a new program to help steer nurses toward careers in assisted living communities rather than in hospitals and other settings.

Brookdale Senior Living’s new student loan reimbursement program, which provides up to $7,000 for new hires, is meant to attract those interested in the business side of healthcare. The timing of the program’s launch coincides with National Nurses Week, May 6 to 12.

“This is a different kind of path than hospital nursing, and it is a very important one,” said Kim Estes, senior vice president of clinical services for Brookdale. “Rather than providing hands-on care, these nurses shape the overall quality and content of care their community’s seniors receive on a daily basis.”

The company’s assisted living nurses are hired as health and wellness directors, positions in which they oversee clinical services at communities, including setting standards, leading health and wellness programming and managing other caregivers. Often, these positions are filled by registered nurses or licensed practical nurses, depending on state regulatory requirements.

“We love patient care. We love taking care of people. That’s why we went into nursing,” said Jeffin Bush, Brookdale health and wellness director training specialist. “However, there’s a side of us that also understands the business side of healthcare, and I think it really is an opportunity for nurses to learn that skill set that you don’t traditionally learn in school.”

Through the new initiative, newly hired health and wellness directors will be reimbursed up to $7,000 for their student loans — $3,500 after one year of employment and another $3,500 after the second year.

At a time when both competition for nurses and the aging population are growing, the funds may help sway nurses who might otherwise choose to work in a hospital setting based on pay. Nationally, RNs working in general medical and surgical hospitals had a mean hourly wage of $35.09 as of May 2015, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, whereas RNs working in assisted living and continuing care retirement / life plan communities had a mean hourly wage of $29.59. (The difference was less — and in the favor of assisted living — for LPNs and licensed vocational nurses. They had a mean hourly wage of $20.64 when working in hospitals, according to the BLS, and a mean hourly wage of $21.67 when working in assisted living and CCRCs.)

Brookdale already reimburses current employees for the cost of undergraduate and graduate school courses, certification programs and licensing and continuing education credits if they have been employed with the company for at least 12 months and agree to remain with the company for one year after receiving reimbursement.

The company, the country’s largest senior living provider, has more than 9,000 nursing positions across its more than 1,120 communities in 47 states.