One of the fastest-growing segments of the economy is healthcare so you would think it would be easy to recruit the best healthcare workers for aging services businesses. Certainly, hospitals have not had a hard time in this arena. But recruiting healthcare workers for aging services has proven somewhat harder. There are some systemic issues related to this. So you need to start at the 50,000-foot level to understand the causes so you can move beyond the symptoms.
Nursing homes probably suffer from a bad image more so than any other segment of aging. And studies such as the number of former convicts who work in the industry don’t help. But the halo effect of that carries over to all aging service providers. And you don’t have to search far for stories of elder abuse by home care workers. But as in any industry, there are good and bad apples and good and bad stories.
- Collect and tell your good stories of care to the local media and then re-purpose those stories for newsletters, the web, and social media.
- Similarly, spotlight the healthcare heroes who work for your organization and let them tell in their own words why they find their career fulfilling and your facility as an enabler to that.
- Look to your representative associations to take the image message to the masses.
Most workers in aging services make low wages. Even nursing home administrators are nowhere nearly as well paid as their hospital counterparts. Of course, a lot of this is traced to reimbursement. While Medicare and even private payers pay for some of the services provided by aging services, they are the minority payers. Medicaid is often the default payer for nursing home care and self-pay is predominant as well. So until reimbursement gets better, wages will not.
- Move your storytelling above to your legislators working with your state and national agencies.
- Brush up on the nuances of advocacy.
- Educate the public on aging issues and preparing for and financing care.
Education and Training Problem
According to the Institute of Medicine’s: Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce, geriatric specialists are needed in all professions not only for their clinical expertise but also because they will be responsible to train the entire workforce in geriatric principles. However, only a small percentage of professional healthcare providers specialize in geriatrics, in part due to the high cost associated with the extra years of training as well as the relatively low pay. Following are some of their recommendations. While you may be removed from them, at least realize that they ultimately impact you. Being able to talk to your legislators about them, for example, could go a long way.
- Provide financial incentives to increase the number of geriatric specialists.
- Increase payments for their clinical services.
- Develop awards to increase the number of faculty in geriatrics.
- Establish programs that provide loan forgiveness, scholarships, and direct financial incentives for professionals who become geriatric specialists.
Empower and Satisfy the Workforce
My InnerView publishes an annual nursing home survey, one of the most predictive indicators of resident, family, and staff satisfaction. More than 283,000 staff are surveyed. Workforce satisfaction increased in every job category between 2007 and 2009. According to the survey, satisfaction among nurses and nursing assistants remains lower than the satisfaction of employees in other job categories; however, both types of workers have become more satisfied with their facilities since 2006, showing a sustained upward trend. Facilities with higher workforce satisfaction also have higher family satisfaction. Their conclusion was that “an effective strategy for quality improvement must include an intense and sustained focus on the skills, commitment and satisfaction of the workforce, particularly those staff who directly care for residents and communicate with family members.”
Most company leaders and human resource professionals will tell you that pay and benefits are only part of the equation for attracting and keeping the best worker no matter the profession or industry. Here are some of the factors cited by My InnerView respondents that matter to them.
- Management cares
- Management listens
- I’m given help with job stress and burnout
- Workplace safety
- My supervisor cares, appreciates and informs me
- I have adequate equipment/supplies
- I am given adequate training to deal with difficult residents
So translating this to strategy could involve:
- Hire the right management and leadership
- Provide ongoing training
- Equip staff with the tools to do their job
If these are in place, leverage them in your recruitment efforts and use satisfied staff as ambassadors in your recruitment efforts.
Address Stress and Burnout
Consider that healthcare workers are like firefighters. Both experience tremendous joy and sorrow as part of the job. Yet the healthcare family suffers from burnout while people actually volunteer to be part of the firefighter culture. The firefighting culture includes the camaraderie and community of the firehouse where firemen share, vent, cry and laugh. They are considered heroes.
Yet, healthcare workers suffer burnout. The stress they carry has nowhere to go so they take it home. Stress leads to poor quality, missed steps and can endanger lives. Cleveland Clinic has helped address this by instituting what they call Code Lavender. If anyone in the organization is suffering emotionally and mentally (maybe a close patient died) a team of social workers, pastoral care workers, and others will come in like a SWAT team and help that person or unit. Aging services providers need to consider this as well as stress and burnout are one of the biggest reasons people leave the profession.
A Career Not a Job
Because of the low pay and bad image, many aging services jobs serve as interim stopovers on a person’s career path. In fact, working in aging is not looked at as a career. Part of the problem is that workers tend to have very specific roles and work in silos in this industry.
Worker roles need to be expanded and there need to be career paths established for workers in long-term care services. As people see that this is a noble career and not a stop-over, they will be attracted to the profession.
If you are a progressive provider you most likely have many of the things in place to corner the workforce. Tell your story and tell it again and get others to tell it. That will have the best people finding you and not you having to turn over rocks to find them.