Dr. El
Dr. El

Recent calls1, 2, 3 for an increase in nursing staff levels may have providers wondering how to accomplish this. Under normal circumstances it can be challenging to find qualified individuals; the pandemic has added an off-putting level of danger to nursing home work. Two webinars hosted by McKnight’s Long-Term Care News last week offer clues to solving this problem.

In the first webinar, Kristen Baird, RN, BSN, MHA, discussed the importance of creating a corporate culture that encourages staff to remain with an organization rather than get tempted away by companies that pay an equal (or higher) minimum wage for easier work. In the second, HUB International’s Wendy King, director of Health and Performance, and Gigi Acevedo-Parker, National Practice leader, outlined ways to better address the mental health needs of residents and staff.

The juxtaposition of sessions reveals a path for long-term care to compete with other types of companies for low-wage workers.

Baird pointed out that caregivers aren’t in the field for the money but for the love of the residents. They stick with the job when they feel valued and respected for their efforts. Earning a living wage is clearly one way to show respect and to reduce turnover, but if an individual can earn the same amount flipping burgers that they can changing adult diapers, LTC needs to offer other incentives.

The key is mental health

An emphasis on mental health is the answer. When a facility attends to the mental health of the residents, workers have the experience of seeing elders thrive emotionally even while they may be declining physically. Caregivers are part of a gratifying cycle of life.

When a facility attends to the mental health of the staff, the job becomes part of their essential support system, one they don’t leave for a few dollars more down the block. The HUB professionals explained that part of mental health is addressing the challenges that workers experience in different areas of their lives, including financial problems, coping with stress and childcare.

Kristen Baird noted that healthy team dynamics are also part of worker well-being. As the adage goes, people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. Nurses are managers and, more often than not, they have little managerial training.

The webinars, which can be accessed HERE, outlined many actions facilities could take to benefit current staff, but let’s return to the thorny task of attracting qualified team members.

Seize the moment

LTC has a long-standing image problem and, as I wrote in Increasing the positive visibility of long-term care, we’re in a moment when public attention is directed towards our difficulties. There have always been people who rush to help during demanding times and those are exactly the kind of people we want working with our elders. We need to attract them and retain them.

As I reflected on the talks, I kept thinking of the military advertisement, “Be all you can be. Join the army.” Maybe our slogan could be something like, “Find a job with meaning,” “Learn life lessons from experienced teachers,” or “Change someone’s life. Join LTC.”

In order to draw in workers, we need to do much more to showcase the amazing parts of our field. Positive stories and testimonials on websites from workers, residents and families, and details about employee benefits such as those discussed above can help.

Even then, with a reasonable salary and benefits, sufficient staffing and a caregiver’s mindset, starting work in a nursing home can be unsettling. Since most staff turnover occurs in the first few months of employment, it’s essential to have thoughtful onboarding and mentorship programs that can get newbies through the first six months of adjustment. (See this article for my thoughts on the impact of loss on new employees.)

The reality is that working in a nursing home is so meaningful, satisfying and educational that people stick with it under adverse circumstances. Many more would choose LTC and remain in their positions if these disadvantages were addressed.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Bronze Medalist for Best Blog in the American Society of Business Publication Editors national competition andGold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category in their Midwest Regional competition. To contact her for speaking engagements and/or content writing, visit her at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.