The coronavirus pandemic is forcing providers across the country to spend more to maintain staffing levels.
But it has also shined a light on how frontline workers have been cobbling together a living wage before and during the crisis at times by working for multiple providers or pulling shifts across different communities. With workers under financial stress at home and Covid-19 limiting shifts at multiple buildings, providers are now increasing compensation.
With margins already being squeezed, finding solutions will not be easy, Bridgewood Property Company CEO Jim Gray told Senior Housing News.
“We need to figure out a way to [fairly compensate] them. We still have to provide them with the income they need to support their families. And that’s a dilemma,” he said.
Houston-based Bridgewood owns and operates 22 communities in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, totaling 2,600 independent living, assisted living and memory care units. Its fully integrated, in-house operator, Retirement Center Management (RCM), employs over 1,700 people.
As the lockdowns continue, Bridgewood is encouraging its employees to pick up double shifts as a way to maintain staffing levels as well as minimize their movements away from properties. The company is also offering hourly wage increases between $2 an hour and $3 per hour, and is doing hero bonuses.
To date, a handful of staff members have tested positive for Covid-19 and have been quarantined. That adds to the staffing pressures. Bridgewood does not have concrete numbers on how many employees are working extra hours to maintain service levels, but leadership is working on collecting that information to determine how to move forward.
“[Wage incentives] help, but it’s still not the same as working a full shift somewhere,” Gray said.
The wage increases have contributed to sharp spikes in operating costs across Bridgewood’s portfolio. Gray estimates that overall expenses have jumped 5% to 10%, depending on the community. Other increases are attributed to increased spending on personal protective equipment (PPE), which Gray predicts will be an ongoing spend even as the pandemic subsides.
In fact, he sees the industry will adopt tighter safety and testing policies as part of the post-Covid landscape. Among these policies: requiring a negative test for all new residents prior to moving into a community; regular testing of all residents, employees and outside caregivers, particularly during the if Covid-19 emerges as a seasonal occurrence.
Bridgewood began securing its communities to non-essential personnel shortly after a coronavirus outbreak was reported in a Kirkland, Washington nursing home. In addition to the staff who have tested positive, Bridgewood had a resident in an independent living cottage in one of its Texas communities test positive. This made quarantining easier as the resident was already isolated from the larger census. A few residents in Bridgewood’s Oklahoma communities have also tested positive for the disease.
“I envision a form of social distancing being integrated into the community’s programs such as more spacing in the dining rooms, or creating more dining hours in order to spread out the resident base. This pandemic will also bring better infectious disease management and protocols within our communities, better hygiene and disinfecting procedures,” he said.