Gingrich: Providers able to fix workforce problems themselves

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Newt Gingrich has a message for long-term care providers: Don't wait for the government to fix your staffing challenges. Predictable cynicism? Not really. He also claims some relatively easy solutions are at your fingertips.

Whether you're Republican, Democrat or independent, you might do well to listen to the former House Speaker.

He has praise for the long-term care staff at his late mother's former nursing facility in Harrisburg, PA. He watched. He knows.

Perhaps more significantly, he formerly co-chaired the National Commission for Long-Term Care and a few related efforts. Not enough of that came out during Gingrich's “debate” with ideological counterpart Larry Summers at the annual meeting of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care on Wednesday. Not that he didn't try. But Gingrich was only a panelist, not the moderator. Maybe next time.

What the conservative firebrand did offer in a mellowed performance, however, was worth the price of admission. Rather than holding your breath for relief coming from the federal government on immigration affairs, Gingrich advised taking care of the home fires instead. Besides, there's little sense waiting for a piece of an immigrant green card pie that might not ever get baked under the Trump administration.

Online education is the way to go, Gingrich asserted several times to the 3,000-plus attendees. Internet learning should be your salvation to recruitment, training and career ladders for long-term care workers, he said. He emphasized that long-term care is one of “very few” professions in prime position to maximize continuing education this way.

It could have a “dramatic” and “huge impact on the workforce,” the former university instructor said.

Providers will get more out of taking care of in-house talent rather than trying to keep the rotating door filled with warm bodies from overseas, he said. “Bringing in immigrants is not the primary solution,” he declared. Taken at face value from one of Donald Trump's biggest supporters, that might come off as xenophobic rhetoric, but it certainly wasn't delivered, nor do I think intended, that way during Wednesday's opening general session.

You could excuse long-term care staffing and professional education companies if they thought they had found a new front man.

“I cannot over-emphasize the emergence of online learning opportunities,” Gingrich said, adding it could bring “fundamental” change. “It would be less expensive to have employees learn within the system. It would dramatically expand your usable workforce.”

Workers might be less enthused about his other suggestions in this area. For one, he recommended keeping an eye on the Japanese, who have perhaps greater challenges taking care of their tidal wave of elderly citizens. This is so partly because they resist importing outside workers. As a result, the Japanese have turned quicker to robots and automation.

So if electronic health records can be a savior (and they can), why can't online learning?

Any steps that management can take to stem the tide of outgoing employees – which triggers high recruitment and replacement costs – should be hailed. And heeded.

Willing guest workers from other shores can help ease staffing shortages, but this is one time when taking care of employees already in the fold should take precedence. The survival of your business might depend on it.

Follow Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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