Competition for nursing home workers at an all-time high

The most agonizing struggle to find and retain operational personnel in skilled nursing facilities continues to be a condition in search of a cure.

The pandemic worsened the situation, amplifying health and safety concerns, which then piled on already low wages and relatively uncompetitive wages.

Hero Pay was a nice gesture, but not a solution. Employees can be recruited by agencies, but at higher costs.

As a recruiter from a national nursing facility put it, “Why work for $ 15 an hour cleaning up a resident with incontinence when you can do the same in a McDonald’s or a store?” Retail?”

Morale in some communities has declined as conditions deteriorated, although hygiene there has steadily improved in recent months. Even still, the vaccine has not proven to be a panacea, as employee participation rates have fallen short of expectations.

The kind-hearted worker will persist, but worrying turnover rates cannot be ignored. A third of healthcare workers said they were considering leaving the industry, according to an April poll by the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation.

“It’s tough work, you’re always on your feet and it’s a stressful workplace,” said the recruiter, who is hiring for a large national operator. “On top of that you add ‘putting my life at risk while working here’ because of Covid-19. These trained nurses tend to last an average of two or three years before they run out. “

Why ‘we can’t’ raise wages

Operators today will say they can’t raise wages because they are just trying to survive economically during these tough times of the past year, the recruiter said.

When asking supervisors or the human resources team to increase salaries, the recruiter said management often told her and others that she couldn’t afford it because that she hadn’t budgeted.

“But in reality, they don’t budget for it because it adds expense to the budget,” he said.

Another reason they can’t or won’t budge is that other people in the facility are better paid, like RNs, who sometimes make four times as much as low-paid staff – and yet these two (types of employees) work hand in hand. – hand, he said.

“It’s the difference between having a four-year degree and taking a two-week training course, I guess,” he said. “If we paid staff based on their importance to day-to-day operations, we would have an entirely different pay scale.”

In some markets, RNs and LNs can earn 50% more in wages working in secure hospital intensive care units, said Mark Myers, general manager of investment sales at Walker & Dunlop.

“In addition, the continued southward migration of older citizens – as well as the workforce – to low-tax, tax-free, warmer, and business-friendly environments is affecting occupancy rates. and hiring in states like Illinois, which has seen 70,000 people leave. ”

When smaller is better

Betsy Rust, Partner, Plante & Moran, has recognized, like everyone else, that resident care workers play a vital role in the industry.

“Communities that have strong brands and consumer confidence, and a strong corporate culture where they truly care for their employees are at an advantage,” she said. “These workers, remember, are mentally and physically exhausted from all of this last year.

“It’s just a lot harder for large companies to adopt a company-wide ‘we care’ attitude compared to small or even some mid-sized operators. Competition for workers is at an all time high. “

Rust said another benefit for small local businesses is that they are better able to connect in the community and refer patients to nearby hospitals, for example.

“Small communities don’t have to operate like Amazon,” she said. “But what hurts small businesses economically is their inability to operate with economies of scale.”

The market dictates the rates of pay and rents in the private sector of industry. But for Medicaid, it lowers the rates a state will pay qualified nursing operators. “So even if you’re a good, well-run company with a great culture, you’ll be paid the same as the other community in the block,” Myers said.

Treat them like ‘royalty’

David Dillard, FAIA, Senior Living Practice Leader, Principal, DKS, Dallas, said architectural designs have recently made employee housing safer and a bit more stylish, which could help make these jobs more attractive.

Dillard said the back room rest rooms are designed a little more cushy – “there are balconies; and really, these workers are treated like royalty from the past, ”he said.

“[Designs are being drawn] with more separation for incoming and outgoing employees so that they can perform their wellness checkpoints more safely when coming and going from work, ”he said. “The goal is to make as many things as possible in the process ‘contactless’.”

This is important because the recruiter said, “When I talk to candidates, they ask if PPE will be provided. It wasn’t a guarantee at the start of the pandemic, but now it’s plentiful (although less necessary). So yes, it will be available. But they have heard the horror stories and some won’t believe you even when you tell them.

“Unfortunately, they’re not looking at how the pandemic has shed a clearer light on wages,” he said. “Coming out of the economic turmoil of last year, they’ve learned something, but they’re not trying to fix it. They could have changed their view of things and taken the opportunity to better pay these valuable employees who are difficult to find. “

Written by Paul Bergeron

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