Member of long-term care workforce shaking hands during recruiting job interview.
(Credit: SDI Productions / Getty Productions)

Vacancies are down, and caregiver staffing is beginning to stabilize in senior living communities, according to new data on wage growth for certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses.

Chicago-based senior housing data analytics company LivingPath analyzed real-time wage data to provide the industry a window into what is happening in the senior living — independent living, assisted living and memory care — job market by state, title and metro area.

Those data, according to LivingPath CEO and founder Jonathan Woodrow, can help operators validate market rates in a competitive labor market.

Woodraw told McKnight’s Senior Living he is starting to see normalization in the staffing agency contract market for RNs and LPNs, with contracts edging closer to where they were pre-COVID. But the biggest senior living-related takeaway from the data, he said, is that vacancies and turnover are down. Nationally, total job vacancies are down 6% since the end of the first quarter, and CNA vacancies are down 13.5% in the third quarter compared with the second quarter.

“What that’s telling us is, operators are having a much easier time filling open positions than they were during COVID,” Woodrow said. “This is a signal that perhaps our industry is stabilizing at a faster rate than other sectors of the labor market.”

What that also means, he added, is that operators are getting workers in the door with a higher probability that they are going to stay longer than the six to 12 months that they used to, and they are able to attract a more sustainable candidate pool compared with during the pandemic. Those changes, Woodrow said, are a byproduct of the labor market stabilizing and operators working hard to build hiring and retention protocols and minimize their reliance on agency staffing.

According to third-quarter data, aggregate CNA wages are up to $20 per hour, a $2 hourly year-over-year increase. Non-agencies are paying an average hourly wage of $19.50, whereas agencies are paying an average of $22.86, a 17% spread.

Hourly wages for LPNs have increased from $28 to $31.50, a 12.5% year-over-year increase. Woodrow said he is still seeing $5,000 to $10,000 signing bonuses in the Northeast for LPNs, but he attributed those bonuses to regulations that require care to be provided by elevated licensure types compared with other parts of the country.

RN wages actually were down on a quarter-over-quarter basis for the first time in recent memory, down 1% nationally and down 2% across the top 50 metropolitan statistical areas.

Woodrow said he also is seeing transparency in salary data. More than 30% of US job postings now contain salary information, and senior living is now mirroring — and at times exceeding — this level of transparency, he said. Colorado leads the country, with 65% of postings containing salary data.

A changing mindset

Woodrow said that before the pandemic, operators assumed that a pool of workers always was going to be available and willing to work for wages paid pre- and early post-pandemic. Operators also historically were more conservative with rate increases and oftentimes weren’t able to increase wages, he said.

But operators started doing the math and realized that whatever they could do from a human resources perspective to minimize turnover worked heavily in their favor, as did minimizing agency staffing, which produced immediate savings, Woodrow said. Also, in the past 12 to 18 months, COVID-related entitlements started ending in many states, creating a window for people motivated to go back to work.

Broadly, he said, operators recognized that to make their communities the “best possible place to work for the largest number of people,” they would have to be more flexible with the labor pool than they were pre-COVID.

Now, Woodrow said, there is a concerted effort by operators to improve pay and the employee experience along with implementing aggressive resident rate increases.

“They are sharpening their pencil in a new way, making sure they are able to pass through the labor costs to families in the form of care fees, base rates, medication management,” he said, adding that the revenue model has seen more restructuring in the past year than in the past decade.

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