Assisted living staff turnover rates have been high for decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown this challenge into an increasingly sharper focus. After all, seniors and the staff caring for them at long-term care facilities have been hardest hit by the pandemic. As of November 2020, more than 100,000 long-term care facility residents and staff had died due to COVID, accounting for 40% of all such deaths, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Now, burnt-out assisted living staff faced with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing against the backdrop of upward trending infection rates are seeking out safer jobs. Data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care indicates that as of September 2020, 57% of senior housing facilities were turning to temporary staffing to mitigate staffing shortages, adding to already high operating costs.
However, high assisted living staff turnover rates don’t just hurt the bottom line. This turnover prevents staff from minimizing exposure to COVID-19 as more people move through these facilities and get up to speed on the rules and requirements. What’s more, high turnover reduces opportunities to build trust among residents and develop resident-staff relationships.
While assisted living facility administrators may find it challenging to focus on recruitment and retention amid the other challenges they face today, lowering staff turnover impacts all other day-to-day activities. With the right people in place, administrators can better care for their patients and rebuild trust among stakeholders.
As a result, administrators find they must become creative in how they appeal to staff and work to slow assisted living staff turnover rates.
Challenges driving high assisted living staff turnover rates
The population of aging Baby Boomers has begun to outpace the population of available caregivers, with experts projecting a need for an additional one million caregivers by 2026, a 50% increase from 2014. The number of individuals 65 years old or older will double between 2016 and 2060, from 49 to 95 million. During that same time, the labor force at large will increase only by 14%. Those numbers are more dire for the direct caregiver industry, which has long been plagued by recruitment and retention challenges.
The most intractable recruitment and retention challenges include low pay for the labor-intensive work, irregular hours, and few opportunities for advancement, according to research firm PHI. The result is turnover in the long-term care industry ranging from 45% to 66%, at a cost of roughly $2,200 per employee.
One interesting finding from this research is that it is not pay alone that spurs staff to leave. Organizational culture also has a tremendous impact.
Facilities that can lower assisted living staff turnover rates during today’s challenges will set themselves up for a healthy future.
6 Strategies to Reduce Assisted Living Staff Turnover:
1. Rethink scheduling
There’s no doubt that the tremendous challenge of managing senior care during the pandemic is demanding more out of caregivers. However, pushing for overtime without relief is a surefire way to drive up turnover.
Summit Vista, a life plan community in Taylorsville, Utah addressed this challenge by adopting a two-tiered schedule. A and B teams alternated working seven days on, with seven days off. This type of cohorting can reduce the level of individuals in a space at a time, helping to reduce infection spread through contact. In this case, it also provided relief for workers who were, in some cases caring for their loved ones. This is one reason that Summit Vista has had little turnover and retention, even as Utah reported the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
This is also an excellent time to study past schedules to identify any overtime or call-off patterns or regular scheduling gaps. There may be opportunities to pull in more cost-effective part-time staff to reduce costly overtime or overall reorganize scheduling to maximize staff time.
2. Prioritize staff wellness
Healthy assisted living staff will keep coming back to work, but healthy has much broader connotations today than only physical wellness. Prioritizing staff wellbeing means ensuring time off to care for loved ones, mental health support to reduce risks of burnout, appropriate PPE availability, and even employing chaplains to keep employees engaged spiritually.
Solutions will need to vary based on your staff’s needs, so communication is critically important. Consider issuing regular surveys about which benefits staff would like to see and posting information about your insurance plan’s physical and mental health benefits in common areas, or mailing this information out where it can be reviewed at home.
Commonwealth Senior Living proposes a more proactive tactic: they track which staff members are not taking time off to encourage all staff to take time for themselves.
3. Automate wherever possible
Technology has become the hero of the assisted living industry. It is serving seniors by supporting social distancing, cleaning in-room air, and providing mental stimulation and connection to the world. It’s also supporting assisted living staff in these areas. For example, automated cleaning solutions such as Whiz, the commercial robot vacuum, developed in partnership with Brain OS and ICE Robotics, allow staff to do more without straining their workload or safety.
Whiz follows a programmable route, vacuuming alongside a member of the custodial staff. By working with a collaborative robot, housekeepers can minimize the number of staff members present in an area while maximizing the amount of cleaning performed. What’s more, automating these monotonous tasks allows staff to prioritize more critical high-level disinfection.
4. Offer more support to workers supporting seniors
With employees giving more to work, assisted living facilities are getting creative with helping their workforce support things falling behind in their personal life or other areas. Solutions range from free childcare to flexible spending or free meals, extra uniforms, and even transportation services, reducing the spread of infection among workers using public transportation.
An employee assistance program (EAP) is one possible solution for formalizing these benefits. Traditionally, EAPs have focused on interventions to personal problems such as alcohol or substance abuse, but now are being expanded to cover a broader range of challenges. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, these programs can be delivered through EAP vendors or as part of your health insurance.
5. Hold morale-boosting sessions
Morale may have been understandably low for workers, but a new year isn’t going to revitalize workers right away. It may have the opposite effect as vaccine rollout drags on, and the pandemic’s impact continues to be felt long-term. As a result, morale-boosting events and solutions may become more critical than ever. While these obviously will not include summertime parties or after-work gatherings while a need for social distancing remains, there are many other possibilities.
For example, Summit Vista hired a local food truck to provide treats for employees and residents to enjoy outdoors while socially distancing. Donor contributions have supported Caledonia Senior Living in buying workers meals. The facility also gives employees a bag of groceries each week to help workers by reducing staff’s risk of exposure to COVID-19 while grocery shopping. Commonwealth Senior Living is offering cash prizes for winners of a teamwork-focus contest. Consider encouraging fun dress-up days or celebrating employee milestones to help brighten staffs’ day regularly.
6. Prioritize transparency and clear communication
Workers concerned about their safety aren’t going to be comforted by a morale-boosting event alone. They want to know that management is acknowledging problems and working to solve them. Transparency and action at the earliest signs of infection are critical. However, being open about staffing and other challenges will also help build trust among staff. Be accessible and listen to staff who voice concerns. Provide regular communication, including daily staff updates or minutes from management meetings. Providing explicit, upfront information can prevent rumors, fear, and disengagement from your staff.
Prioritizing staff wellbeing is a critical first step to repair occupancy rates damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. When cared-for staff are motivated to serve as brand ambassadors, families will be more likely to put their trust and their loved ones in your care. Clear, visible examples of how you’re investing in staff care and wellbeing are an excellent way to make this priority apparent to employees and visitors alike.
Whiz is one visible example of how you can invest in staff. To learn more about how Whiz can support your staff, contact us today.