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New Ideas to Address the Workforce Shortage in Senior Living

Friday, April 7, 2023

If you’re still experiencing some kind of staffing shortage since the pandemic, you’re definitely not alone. The numbers are alarming when it comes to the workforce shortage in senior living, regardless of which industry source you read. A LeadingAge poll released in March 2023 shows the numbers have improved a little in the past year, but about 90% of nursing homes and 70% of assisted living providers say they are facing a significant or severe staffing crisis. And overall, 64% said their workforce situations have not improved.

Staff member helps senior woman walking with cane

Workforce Shortage Began Before Pandemic

While the workforce shortage in senior living started before the COVID pandemic, it compounded the problem. Enrollment in nursing and healthcare fields has been decreasing for years. As you know, while the work itself is meaningful, it’s often challenging and it doesn’t pay as well or earn as much respect as other industries, making it even more difficult to attract new talent.

Then, the pandemic hit. In January, the executive director of the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) said the entire long-term care sector has lost more than 300,000 workers since the pandemic began because of a combination of burnout for existing employees and the “Great Resignation.”

Shortage Impacts Providers, Employees and Residents

The workforce shortage is impacting many, but especially the growing number of seniors who need care. Some senior living providers are having to limit the number of move-ins or worse yet, having to close, especially in rural areas where there are even fewer workers available. In an NCAL survey in June 2022, 30% of participating assisted living providers said they were limiting new move-ins (24%) or closing their communities (6%) as a result of operating and staffing challenges.

The LeadingAge poll released in March shows many providers are also having to use reserves to cover staffing agency costs or pay overtime, and that remaining staff members are carrying heavier workloads to make up for shortages.

Solutions Include Policy Changes and Providers Taking Short-Term Actions

After researching some proposed policy changes and discussing the continuing shortage with many clients, Community Living Solutions shares some ideas below for you to consider if you haven’t already. If you have other ideas not listed here, we’d love to hear from you!

Proposed Policy Changes Include Financial and Immigration Reform

LeadingAge has proposed several solutions in its 2023 workforce policy platform and recently submitted testimony for a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing about what it’s calling a “workforce crisis.” The platform suggests policies to increase compensation to a livable wage, expand training and advancement opportunities, mitigate temporary nurse staffing agency price gouging, and enact “meaningful, equitable” long-term care financing.

The association also said that the industry needs policies that establish and retain a pipeline of foreign aging services workers, support a temporary guest worker program for providers, and improve the process for allowing RNs to permanently enter the country.

Providers Are Changing How They Recruit and Retain Employees

While waiting for policy changes, many providers are increasing their efforts to help with recruiting and retaining employees. The June 2022 NCAL survey found that assisted living providers were doing the following:

  • 93% increased wages in the past year
  • 75% strengthened the workplace culture
  • 69% offered bonuses
  • 55% promoted staff members
  • 55% paid for training / education
  • 38% are offering additional benefits

Other Solutions Don’t Require Much “Hard” Cost

Other providers are improving recognition programs. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Health Care Assistants confirmed that all staff members want to be respected and valued for the work they do. That includes licensed nurses, aides, dietary workers, therapists and maintenance personnel.

Sonata Senior Living in Florida recently launched a program to recognize all employees who display a commitment to the company’s core values. A “Sonata Star” is nominated by peers and showcased on the website, social media and other marketing platforms to recognize and motivate team members.

Technology Can Also Close Some Gaps

Technology may also help with the workforce shortage. Automation, including artificial intelligence, and robotics can help with cleaning, dining tasks, manual processes or improve two-way communication between front-line workers and management.

A case study by the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies showed that a group of continuing care retirement communities in New Jersey was able to integrate robotic process automation that resulted in a 75% reduction in processing time and an estimated savings of more than $250,000 in recaptured labor productivity. The goal was to centralize all of its data into a functional data warehouse and make it scalable to adapt to the changing needs of the organization.

On-Campus Employee Housing Is a Win-Win

Another solution that has proven successful in recruiting and retaining employees is turning unused space into employee housing, especially knowing that occupancy rates are still below pre-pandemic levels for many. For example, the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) report for third quarter 2022 shows for assisted living, the total occupancy rate was 79.7%. This was up from the pandemic low of 74.1% in early 2021 but remained 4.9 percentage points below the first-quarter 2020 rate of 84.6%. Having room availability filled with employees may be an excellent incentivization for recruitment and retention.

CLS Experts to Present in May on Employee Housing Considerations

With the above in mind, Duane Helwig, Partner, Vice President of Design, and John Huhn, Vice President of Senior Living, from Community Living Solutions will present with a panel of experts on “Open Positions? Empty Units? Providing Employee Housing Could Be the Solution” at the LeadingAge 2023 Wisconsin Spring Conference in LaCrosse.

The panel will also include providers who will share their learnings and insight on the opportunities, challenges, benefits, and must dos when considering employee housing on your campus. They will also address considerations like human resources, design and building code, security, and legalities.

To learn more, please join us at LeadingAge Wisconsin or subscribe to our email list below. We’ll send details to you after May 4 about creating employee housing on your campus to help address the workforce shortage in senior living.