Solution to workforce woes in providers' own hands

James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Former baseball executive Branch Rickey is famous for bringing Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues to break the color barrier in 1947. It is especially noteworthy since this is Black History Month, but providers should admire Rickey for another reason as well.

In brief, the man knew how to build a brand.

Before he moved to the Brooklyn Dodgers as part-owner, Rickey spent several decades as an executive with the St. Louis Cardinals. It was there he devised what is known today as the minor leagues.

Originally, major league teams bought players from independent ball clubs. Rickey, incensed about repeatedly getting outbid by teams from Chicago and New York, developed “farm” teams that were owned by the Cardinals themselves. Controlling the fates of players on as many 40 teams at a time, his Cardinals won nine league championships and six World Series titles over a 20-year span.

Rickey knew how to assess, develop and hold onto talent.

This is something too few long-term care providers are adept at. Few are really prepared for their staffing needs of the future, Sherri Huston believes. As senior vice president for Govig and Associates Healthcare Group, she has observed hundreds of long-term care providers over the years. 

What is missing is a cohesive branding plan for employees — and potential employees. Everyone tries to attract future residents and court family members. But the campaigns to attract and keep employees are lacking, Huston laments.

“In this industry, everyone has care models for residents, but what's missing is the development model for employees,” Huston told me recently. “For many years, this industry has developed an outward focus on residents. Now they have to turn it into an inward focus and be just as intentional. There's a gap.”

After all, you can't provide proper care if you can't make budget and a big part of that is a stable, productive workforce.

Huston sees it as a three-pronged need. First, university graduates have to understand that long-term care and seniors housing is a viable path, on both the clinical and operational sides. Non-traditional job candidates also should be sought. This includes managers from non-healthcare settings.

“In hospitality, so many skill sets — such as customer service and working with dining — are transferrable into skilled nursing or assisted living,” she observes.

Secondly, there needs to be more internal growth. “You have to be able to develop what you need internally. If you can't do that, you're not going to be able to compete in the future,” Huston says, possibly lifting a line from Branch Rickey himself.

Career tracks need to be put into place, and closely monitored. The business office manager role, for example, is a “great grooming” position for future administrators and executive directors, Huston believes.

Finally, an overall “employment brand” is needed. Create it, polish it, refer to it often. Make it a beacon for potential employees.

“If they can do that, they'll separate themselves from the crowd,” Huston says.

She also believes that in the future, potential is going to be more important than experience for job candidates. With the culture change revolution underway, the vital senior-care job of tomorrow might not yet exist today. In other words, just because someone has experience, it doesn't guarantee he or she is ready for the tests ahead.

Long-term care execs and workers ultimately need to have “genuine passion for care," Huston reminds. “If it's not there, it won't work."

To illustrate this belief, Huston says she tests job candidates by starting a meeting with them in a common area like a dining room. She'll then excuse herself for some contrived reason and secretly observe the candidate's reaction to the residents.

“Their natural feeling toward the residents is going to come out in that environment,” she explains. “As long as there's a natural affinity for seniors, it will work."

If developed properly, your employment brand will make that clear to them well ahead of time.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.





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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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