Senior Living Providers Take Action to Prevent Workforce Crisis

This coverage of the 2016 National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care Fall Conference is brought to you by Mainstreet. As the nation’s largest developer of transitional care properties, Mainstreet specializes in real estate development, value investments and health care. With Mainstreet’s support, SHN is bringing live event coverage of the NIC conference, which draws developers, providers and operators within the post-acute and preventative health care services space.

Hiring and retaining a strong workforce is a pressing challenge for senior housing providers and the industry at large, requiring novel and more aggressive approaches that are being undertaken by some of the nation’s largest operators.

“There are significant labor shortages in the health care sector, for both the executive directors and the frontline workers, the staff throughout our properties,” said Beth Burnham Mace, chief economist and director of capital markets outreach at the National Investment Center for Senior Housing & Care (NIC), at the NIC Fall Conference in Washington, D.C. last week.

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These current workforce challenges only will grow sharper over time—a point not lost on providers such as Houston-based Belmont Village.

“As an industry, we have about a million jobs to form over the next ten years,” Belmont Village co-founder and CEO Patricia Will said last Thursday at the NIC conference. “A lot of those are replacements for folks who are retiring, a lot of them are expanding the net. Think about how daunting that problem is.”

Will’s company is taking proactive steps to meet this tremendous need, as are some of her peers with other operators. They shared some details about their strategies at NIC.

New Partners

Belmont Village operates 26 communities with independent living, assisted living, and memory care, and specializes in serving high barrier-to-entry markets. This creates one of the company’s labor challenges, because many of the caregivers and other staff members do not live in the affluent areas where Belmont Village communities are located, Will noted. The company has paid a lot of attention to the issue and put much energy behind its workforce recruitment and retention efforts, she said, including taking some new approaches.

“We revamped because what we were doing didn’t work,” she said. For instance, Belmont Village has moved to having full-time, in-house recruiters working with the latest digital tools, responsible for maintaining a labor pipeline at both the professional and line worker level.

As another example of the new type of approach that Belmont Village is taking, Will singled out its partnership with Jewish Vocational Services in Los Angeles. This is a particularly tough labor market, so Belmont Village partnered with the 80-year-old organization on a program called HealthWorks, to identify potential certified nursing assistants and help train them, and see them through to become certified and employed.

“They work on grooming, on service skills, and we have taken a lot of people who barely got through their GEDs … who are now really successful caregivers, a few that are rockstars, who we are putting back in school, and we’re growing that capacity,” she said

This is one model that can and should be replicated on a larger scale, she believes.

“Charitable organizations, providers, government organizations need to come together for the million people we need [to care for the growing senior population],” she said.

In terms of the retention piece, creating a strong company culture that nurtures and supports workers is essential, she stressed. Among the steps Belmont Village takes: keeping a substantial reserve to dip into if workers go through personal crises or upheavals, and maintaining a high-touch and visible executive presence in the communities. Will herself personally goes to dinner with any staff member who remains with the company for 10 years.

Be Loud

Each individual market has its own labor dynamics, so it’s important to think about tailoring recruitment and retention approaches to each community, said Leisure Care Chairman and CEO Dan Madsen. Based in Seattle, Leisure Care operates more than 40 communities with independent living, assisted living, and memory care.

Like Will, Madsen is looking for partners to help with recruiting in the markets Leisure Care serves. For instance, Leisure Care is working with the University of Arizona in the Tucson area, Madsen said.

More generally, the senior housing industry needs to turn up the volume and spread the word about the opportunities in this sector, he emphasized.

“Probably the greatest success we’ve had, is getting our great people … out into the community, out at some of these job fairs, being very involved,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, we were kind of the hidden gem out there, and not anymore. We’re trying to be loud.”

It’s a point that was elaborated on by Shamim Wu, president of Irvine, California-based Silverado Living. In addition to having standalone memory care communities in six states, Silverado also provides at home and hospice services.

Specifically with regard to recruiting millennial workers, Wu believes that senior living must not only be louder but more strategic about how it makes its case to potential hires.

“They’re more purpose-driven and mission-based than the two to three generations before them,” she said of millennials. “The message can’t just be around the data and what the demographic trajectory is. We need to be able to touch people’s hearts through the storytelling industry that we are.”

Many providers produce high-quality video snippets to market their communities, and this skillset can be put to work to tell the story of senior living to a new generation of workers, Wu said. Showing videos like these to high school or university students can make a powerful impression, she believes.

Providers that succeed in hiring and then building enthusiasm among new workers will both attract more top talent themselves and help propel the whole industry, Wu said, because these workers will spread the word about their positive experiences. That can help recruitment at all levels, whether frontline workers or top management. As a young leader, she tells her own story to show the opportunities for career advancement in senior living—and there are many others like her also spreading the word, she said.

“I came out of grad school, went into skilled nursing, went into assisted living and memory care, went to IL, learned a ton, and then that positioned me to come into this position,” she said. “And there are hundreds of stories in our industry like that, and given that the industry is now twenty-five years old, you actually have people that can tell that story.”

Written by Tim Mullaney

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