Senior Living Execs Discuss Playbooks for the Worker Shortage

The senior living worker shortage is real, and to make the most out of hiring and retaining employees, executives are thinking outside of the box—and the industry— to find talent.

From comprehensive programs to onboard industry newbies to the “DNA” of a great hire, executives from Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), Meridian Senior Living and other companies weighed in on the shifting ideas surrounding recruitment and retainment Thursday at the Senior Housing News Summit in Washington, D.C.

Tapping Other Industries

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One strategy for recruiting new talent is looking outside of senior housing, Kacy Kang, president and chief operating officer at Meridian Senior Living, said during the summit. Meridian owns and operates independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities in 20 states nationwide.

“What is in people’s DNA is what makes them right or wrong for the industry,” explained Kang. “In our search for executive directors, we were just looking at people’s resumes…but we started looking beyond that.”

Meridian pinpointed life experiences found in its executive directors and now it looks for those in applicants. Some include experiences like working through high school and college, owning a business and living a nomadic life at some point, he said.

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Companies that used to only hire people with experience in the industry are changing their tune due to the pool of qualified workers drying up. By 2022, for every health and wellness director or executive director position that is open, there will be only 0.2% of a person to fill it, Cedric Coco, executive vice president and chief people officer at the nation’s largest senior living provider, Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), explained.

But as providers are now hiring people who come from a variety of industries, including retail and fast food, they still need to be selective.

“We are looking for those who aren’t just in search of a dollar an hour difference, but who want to grow in the industry,” Earl Parker, chief operating officer at Charlottesville, Virginia-based Commonwealth Senior Living, said.

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That’s why Commonwealth devised a model that allows for in-depth training so new employees can get to know the industry while getting paid an executive director salary.

“We started with an internal executive director training program, but realized we didn’t have enough internal people to keep it going,” explained Parker. “We got our first person from the outside and he had absolutely no experience, but started working as a caregiver.”

From the get-go, Commonwealth was paying the employee, who is a former police officer, an executive director salary. The company is teaching him about the industry from the ground up. Now the employee is getting ready to move into sales, and if successful, the hope is to move him into an executive director role.

This model is four months old and is a large investment, but if the employee shows success, the program will expand, Parker added.

Show Compassion

Just as working in the senior living industry requires an immense amount of compassion and empathy, leaders should be displaying those same traits to support employees.

“We’re fooling ourselves if we think people are working for us for our brand,” Chris Hyatt, chief operating officer at Eden Prairie-based New Perspective Senior Living, said. “Most people stay on board because of their supervisor.”

New Perspective owns and operates 20 communities throughout Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

One way supervisors and executives can better connect with workers is by getting to know them, Kang said.

“We have a system where RDOs [regional directors of operations] can filter out events like people’s anniversaries, birthdays and such,” he explained. “We will make a personal call out to them on these days and we have seen very positive feedback because of this.”

Written by Alana Stramowski

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