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SNFs and ALFs Can Do Their Part to Address the Labor Shortage; Some Already Are

Like so many other areas of our society, the pandemic threw a microscope on the senior care industry, most notably on the labor shortage that has been around as long as most of us can remember.

But in December 2021, we realized just how bad the problem was. The Minnesota National Guard was called to assist at North Ridge Health and Rehab, the largest nursing home in Minnesota.

“I’ve had protesters throw apples and water bottles at me, but that doesn’t compare to the challenge of giving someone a bed bath,” said one Guard member, quoted in an article in the New York Times.

It took a pandemic to bring to light how serious the labor problem was in the senior care industry. But the flip side of that was that outsiders were getting a glimpse of the challenges of caring for older Americans.

The great resignation affected senior care, too.

According to the latest reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 1.8 million unfilled health care jobs in the United States. Staffing at SNFs was hit particularly hard. The staff at North Ridge Health and Rehab was down 25% from almost the 600 employees at the start of the pandemic. North Ridge is not the exception, either. Many facilities are experiencing the same type of workforce shortage.

Some of it is due to the Great Resignation. According to an article on, 47.4 million people left their jobs voluntarily in 2021. You read that right: 47.4 million people quit their jobs.

The last few years have been a perfect storm at the macro level: the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are in the middle of retirement age. This will not end soon, either. More than half of the baby boom generation is still working. Many of them will be retiring over the next twelve years. They got a taste of not working in the pandemic when they were either sent home to sit it out or telecommuted. They decided they liked it. Others who are still of working age used the spare time during the lockdown to reassess their professional careers and found they could command higher wages, either from the competition or in another profession.

That’s what happened to many senior care workers, especially at the front-line level.

“Paying CNAs at $15, $16, or in some cases even $17 per hour will no longer cut it in a world where Chick-fil-A is offering $18 to retain its workers,” said Lori Porter, CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants in an Executive Outlook with Skilled Nursing News.

We all know that it’s not just about compensation.

Even though the size of a person’s paycheck is important, recognition, a supportive working environment, and a job with a future are also important to employees. Senior care facilities, including SNF’s and ALFs, are in a position to address this.

The first two, recognition and a supportive working environment, are primarily the responsibility of the individual facilities and employers. The same is true about giving employees a sense of a job with a future, but this is a place where the industry can also help, and they have.

Katie Smith Sloan, CEO of Leading Age, addressed it in the Skilled Nursing News Executive Outlook mentioned earlier: “A critical piece of reform must address the chronic and worsening workforce struggles among nursing homes – and all across health care and aging services. Additional support is needed not only to fully reimburse providers for the cost of care and ensure workers are fairly compensated but to also build our sector – to attract more prospects, develop career lattices and fill pipelines so that all of us who need care as we age can get it.”

In January, the National Association of Health Care Assistants, a professional association for CNAs, shook hands with ShiftMed. The reason for that handshake was the announcement of the National Institute of CNA Excellence (NICE).

NICE is a cloud-based platform designed to fill the gaps in CNA career preparation. The platform includes 180 content videos, quizzes, and practice tests. Besides helping workers attain CNA certification, the curriculum also addresses the emotional and interpersonal challenges of the job. And it also talks about the rewards of the profession.

But sometimes it’s still about compensation.

But SNFs and ALFs still have to address the issue of pay. Census was hit hard, and compensation is a steep hill to climb as we emerge from the pandemic. Fast food jobs at $20 an hour are especially attractive considering the emotional roller coaster of stress many health care workers went through these last two years due to the pandemic.

David Grabowski, professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School, proposed that by raising the pay of all the nation’s CNAs by $10,000 per year, or $5 an hour for a full-time worker, “this would have a total cost of $20 billion per year.”

It is a considerable sum, but Grabowski was quick to add, “it’s less than one percent of the amount we’ve spent in six weeks to fight COVID.”

Taking pride in the senior care industry.

Another thing industry members can do is show some pride in the industry where they make their living and promote is an attractive place for employment. By 2034 the number of people over 65 years of age will outnumber those under 18. The percentages will be even greater for those over 75. These people will need services, both in post-acute care and long-term care. Workers on the front line are needed, but so are managers and professionals at the leadership level.

The technology challenges alone will require that the industry attract keen analytic minds that can help provide the data for making important decisions on everything from staffing, outcomes, clinical and quality, revenue, collections, and procurement. There is an increasing demand for social workers, physical therapists, recreation specialists, dietary professionals, and administrators.

Each year thousands of high schools across the country hold career days to help students make decisions about where they will go after high school. Professionals in the senior care industry can attend these events and talk about the job opportunities, both in the nursing and care side and in the business and the administrative side.

CareWork can help.

CareWork is committed to one of the important sectors of senior care: giving administrators and leadership teams access to the data that will help them make the best decisions for their business and the care of their residents. The CareWork platform integrates with the systems you already use and brings the information together in one screen. CareWork empowers providers and enables them to manage operations in one place and do so strategically. Automated tools provide data that increases quality, controls costs, tracks compliance, manages labor, reduces waste, and gets jobs done faster. We make care work easier.

Just as importantly, we are committed to the senior care industry. To learn more, visit our website.

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