Columnist Eleanor Alvarez recommends parting ways with unscrupulous staffing agencies, rather than broad rate caps.
Eleanor Alvarez

The staffing crisis in skilled nursing and assisted living centers continues to be a dire situation. As healthcare workers leave the field in record numbers, these centers have found relief by leaning on trusted partners — staffing agencies — to help fill these direct care positions.

I have been in the senior care field for more than 40 years and have never seen the recruiting and staffing challenges we are now experiencing.

I own and operate two assisted living memory care centers in Ohio, The Ganzhorn Suites, where we focus on a resident-centered, evidence-based approach for caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. I also run LeaderStat, a healthcare staffing company that places travel staff and interim leaders in post-acute and acute centers nationwide.

From this experience, I am extremely familiar with all aspects of healthcare. Not only have I experienced staffing issues directly as a provider, but I have also seen the incredible impact of the national labor shortage from the perspective of a staffing firm that assists facilities by filling these gaps.

A 2021 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that nearly 30% of healthcare workers are considering leaving their profession altogether. We know firsthand how difficult COVID-19 has been for our staff in long-term care centers. Even with their dedication and commitment, the struggle has been too much. Many tenured employees are giving up and moving on to other jobs.

For the past 20 years, our staffing company has supported thousands of healthcare facilities nationwide by providing recruitment, staffing and consulting services. Currently, we are working to fill over 700 healthcare positions, from certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and LPNs to RN unit managers, directors of nursing, and administrators. 

In many cases, staffing agencies are a last resort. Some of our client facilities would have been forced to close if they did not have our travel nurses and CNAs there to help.

Healthcare isn’t the only industry experiencing extreme staffing shortages. Many companies are struggling to hire. We have all seen the ads running from big-box stores and fast-food signs saying, “Now hiring, $17+/hour.” Starting wages are increasing rapidly across the nation, making it tempting for exhausted healthcare workers to leave our field for opportunities offering better wages and incentives. To find qualified people in this time of extreme shortages, staffing agencies and firms must respond quickly to meet these all-time high demands — and that means offering higher compensation and more flexibility.

The safety and well-being of residents continue to be our top priority as we support our client facilities. Our recruiting teams work tirelessly to find talented individuals who are in the healthcare field for the right reasons — to care for others and ensure that residents receive the care and services they need. They provide necessary relief staff to numerous centers so they can build their internal teams and stabilize their staff.

I understand the concerns expressed by providers who believe staffing agencies are taking advantage of this critical situation and are unfairly raising their prices. I want to assure you that at LeaderStat, our pricing methodology remains the same as before the COVID-19 crisis. Our increased pricing reflects escalating market rates for wages and benefits, such as health insurance and workers’ compensation — the fundamental costs of providing temporary healthcare staff.

Recently proposed legislation that will cap the charge structure for staffing agencies will prevent them from attracting and paying for the additional staff that is so desperately needed. It is impossible to hire staff at competitive, market wages and pay for payroll taxes and benefits under this very low, restricted rate structure. 

In addition, the cost for compliance, background checks, basic competency training and testing cannot be supported. And this doesn’t even cover the cost for the internal teams who recruit, vet and place staff in centers.

Mandating a limitation on the rates staffing firms can charge is not the answer to this very complex issue. It will make the situation worse and remove one of the support networks acute care and post-acute centers rely on.

If staffing firms are not honorable, then let’s deal with the problem and cancel their contracts. Don’t do business with unethical companies. Long-term solutions rely on securing increased reimbursement to providers so we can offer competitive wages to our dedicated, essential workforce.

We work hard to keep our rates controlled in a very dynamic labor market, and are fully committed to supporting client facilities during these challenging times and beyond.

Eleanor Alvarez is the CEO of The Ganzhorn Suites and LeaderStat. She can be reached at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.