Avamere Sees Dramatic Surge in Hiring Pipeline, Strikes Union Deal Amid Covid-19 Crisis

Mass layoffs put thousands of people out of work in the United States over the last two weeks as the Covid-19 crisis deepened. Senior living providers hope to recruit and hire many of these newly unemployed people — and one major regional provider is well on the way to doing so.

Over the one-week time period between March 17 and March 23, the job board for The Avamere Family of Companies went from receiving 2,365 page views to 4,579 page views, according to data provided to Senior Housing News. Other statistics also show a huge surge in job seekers and applicants for a variety of roles with Wilsonville, Oregon-based Avamere, which operates more than 30 communities offering the full range of senior housing and care.

However, the surge in Avamere’s hiring pipeline did not simply materialize — the company actively pursued new workers through a multi-pronged effort. Leading voices in the industry, including Solera Senior Living CEO Adam Kaplan, have urged providers across the country to take this type of concerted action to hire from the huge number of recently unemployed people, many with backgrounds in hospitality.

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At the same time, Avamere is taking a variety of steps to support and retain its existing workforce, which — like senior living workers around the country — is on the frontlines of the Covid-19 crisis. On Tuesday, the company became the first senior housing and care provider to strike an agreement with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in the state of Oregon, related to worker protections during the Covid-19 outbreak. Similar agreements should be “urgently” adopted across the industry, an SEIU leader said.

The influx arrives

In addition to the dramatic surge in page views for the Avamere job board, other data points reflect how much the labor pipeline expanded in the last week:

— Facebook referrals jumped nearly 600%, from 59 to 412

— Community web page referrals increased more than 1000%, going from 53 to 634

— Indeed referrals increased more than 130%, going from 259 to 601

There were more than 312 applicants in the wings for temporary positions as of Sunday night, March 22, Avamere Director of Marketing and Communications Shawn Raloff told Senior Housing News.

A wide variety of roles are garnering increased interest, including caregiver, receptionist, dietary aid, cook, server, certified nursing assistant (CNA) and registered nurse (RN), he said.

Only a week ago, the nation was just beginning to take major, unprecedented steps to slow the rate of Covid-19 infections, including mass shutdowns of restaurants and bars. Other industries have also been hit hard, including hotels and airlines. Senior living providers, already suffering from a labor crisis, were quick to recognize that they have an even more pressing need for workers to help keep residents safe and operations humming in the midst of the pandemic.

Avamere wasted no time in mobilizing to reach newly laid-off workers and present them with job opportunities.

On March 18, Avamere issued a press release stating that the company would be “actively hiring” temporary workers during the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The Avamere Family of Companies welcomes anyone with a passion for serving seniors to apply, no experience required,” the release stated. “The team is seeking nurses, caregivers, cooks, and housekeepers, among other positions.”

At the same time, the company launched a social media push and word-of-mouth campaign among current employees, Raloff said.

And, Avamere is engaging with companies who are laying off workers, to communicate about its openings. Solera has taken similar steps, reaching out to the National Restaurant Association, for example.

For Avamere, the outreach serves a strategic purpose but was a “natural” move, Raloff said.

“In every meeting there is a great deal of discussion around who is laying off in each of our local communities,” he said. “It was only natural for us to reach out to those we know, offer our support, and make them aware of our temporary positions … Avamere has a rich history of working with other business leaders to support community causes, this time is no different.”

Finally, Avamere pitched the opportunity for recently displaced workers to not only earn a paycheck, but take an active and meaningful role in the effort to fight the scourge of Covid-19.

“Throughout life, opportunities come along for us to make a difference in our world, in our communities, and in the lives of those around us. That time is now,” Avamere CEO Rick Miller said in a video posted online four days ago. “The seniors living in our communities are the most likely to be affected by Covid-19. If you’re looking for work or a way to help, I invite you to consider joining our team.”

Currently, Avamere is hiring for 600 positions, Raloff said. The company is in a good position to handle a large influx of applicants for both temporary and permanent positions thanks to its “People Priority” initiative that has been ongoing over the past 12 months. Under the People Priority, Avamere took a concerted effort to expand and solidify its workforce, including by bringing on board a chief people officer.

It so happens that two new recruiters started just last week, as part of ongoing additions to recruiting and human resources staff under the People Priority, Raloff said. Teams are also “working diligently” so that new temporary and permanent hires have a smooth and positive onboarding process.

Landmark SEIU agreement

Workers may also be inclined to join Avamere in light of the company’s new, first-of-its-kind agreement with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The health care workers union and Avamere announced the deal Tuesday, and it is the first of its kind for the long-term care and nursing home industry in the state, SEIU Spokesman Ben Morris told The Oregonian. It follows similar agreements forged in recent weeks for some state workers and unionized workers at health care system Kaiser Permanente.

The letter of agreement pertains to Avamere’s Oregon workforce of more than 1,700 people. Avamere agreed to a number of provisions, including:

— Communicating to employees about any potential risk or workplace exposure to Covid-19

— Paying for scheduled shifts that an employee misses due to a confirmed case of Covid-19

— Creating a pool of paid time off hours for employees to use before tapping their own leave

— Providing up to $50 a day in child care reimbursement for loss of care during school hours, related to Covid-19

The agreement is “a model that the rest of the industry urgently needs to follow,” SEIU Local 503 Executive Director Melissa Unger said in a statement.

Avamere separately announced some workforce support measures in a press release issued Tuesday. These measures include:

— Any employee with a confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis who requires quarantine or who is quarantined due to at-work exposure to Covid-19 from a patient/resident will receive full pay during the quarantine

— Employees are allowed a negative paid time off balance

— Meals and snacks are free to all on-duty employees in Avamere Living buildings

These policies will come with a pricetag, at a time when senior living providers are facing increased expenses due to Covid-19, which demands extra supplies and infection control procedures. Granted, some costs are also being cut — for instance, some provider executives who usually travel extensively to visit communities are no longer doing so. Still, citing extreme financial pressure, industry associations Argentum and the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) are urging the U.S. Congress to earmark $20 billion in aid to the industry in its next round of financial stimulus.

The cost of personal protective equipment — which is in short supply nationwide — is a major driver of expenses, Raloff said. At the time when he was in CEO Rick Miller’s office shooting the recruitment video, Miller was negotiating to buy PPE “at a huge markup.”

Still, Avamere has determined that workforce investments must be made at this time.

“Rick Miller believes in doing the right thing, he is compassionate and cares very deeply for the staff and residents,” Raloff said.

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