How Tweaking Benefits Plans Can Solve Senior Living Staffing Issues

Talk to any senior living operator about challenges they see on the horizon and they’ll all likely mention the same thing: staffing. After all, hiring and retaining senior living employees is typically much easier said than done, especially as providers duke it out over attracting the most talented leaders and workers.

As if the problem wasn’t bad enough already, demand for long-term care workers is also expected to skyrocket in the coming years. The country will need 2.5 million long-term services and support workers by 2030 to keep up with the aging population, found a 2017 survey report by LeadingAge.

One way to attract and retain workers could be to offer more creative benefits, according to a new white paper from risk management, insurance brokerage and advisory company Willis Towers Watson. Importantly, this should also take place at organizations where many employees are not benefits-eligible due to lack of hours.


Some recent data suggests the traditional ways of offering employee perks and benefits aren’t as enticing as they might have once been. For example, turnover rates are currently averaging 40% or more across most companies in the industry, according to results of a financial benchmarking survey compiled by Willis Towers Watson.


One emerging trend among senior living providers is the practice of offering customizable health plans instead of the standard choices. Health Spending Accounts (HSAs), for example, allow employees to spend their health care funds as they please.


Employers across the board are also offering voluntary benefits like life insurance, vision, dental, disability, cancer and critical illness insurance, accident insurance, and even pet insurance or identity theft protection. Using those, employees can build a piecemeal plan that works best for them.

“A strategy we bring to a lot of operators is to utilize some of the commissions earned from the placements of those coverages to offset the costs in order to implement the benefit administration system,” Michael Pokora, executive vice president and managing director for Willis Towers Watson, said in the white paper.

At the same time, the cost of health insurance is rising at a faster rate than inflation, with costs going up 8% to 15% per year, according to Willis Towers Watson. Pharmacy spending is also rising, forcing some employers to re-examine how they offer benefits.

“We are seeing pharmacy spend as high as 20% of overall benefits costs, and it is rising,” Tricia Collins Schmidt, Midwest regional leader of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, said in the white paper. “There’s a big focus on what providers are doing from a pharmacy perspective, and how to address that in the benefits plans.”

Adopting voluntary benefits could help reduce costs for some senior living operators’ employees, according to the white paper.

“You may take a $2,000 deductible plan, but buy a critical illness policy, as opposed to a $500 deductible plan, which is more expensive,” Collins Schmidt explained.

Communication is key

As benefits change, so too should the way senior living employers talk about them, according to the white paper. More providers should take time to thoroughly explain benefits to their employees.

For providers with many locations spread across the U.S., this might mean sending a corporate associate to a community to go over benefits with employees face-to-face.

“As plan designs are changing, providers now have enrollers on-site to explain the programs to the associates,” Pokora said in the white paper.

Benchmarking benefits

Senior living operators should track the benefits they offer against those offered by their competitors, according to Willis Towers Watson. That way, they can make sure they’re setting themselves apart. For example, Chicago-based Enlivant, which operates more than 200 senior living properties in 27 states, used benchmarking from Willis Towers Watson to improve its benefits plan.

Benchmarking is also important when competing for talent from other industries.

“For many positions, such as housekeepers and maintenance, we are drawing from the same labor pool that retail and hospitality are,” Pokora explained. “When providers look at this they want to understand if they are competitive to be drawing from those other labor pools.”

Written by Tim Regan

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