Dr. El

With worker shortages at critical levels, long-term care leaders are undoubtedly looking for creative solutions to their staffing woes. 

There have been excellent suggestions from within the LTC world, but I recently came upon a journal article from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that outlined short-term strategies in the general workforce that might be helpful. It was geared towards women and government policies, but many of the workforce participation recommendations could be adapted to the LTC environment and are applicable to both male and female employees. 

As facilities struggle with staffing and salaries, these ideas offer good value for the investment of time and money, enhance the culture of the organization, and create jobs that fit with the lifestyle of employees.

What follows are the recommendations of the “rapid expert consultation team” — a group composed of an economist, a policy researcher, a sociologist, and a psychologist — and customized by me as needed to fit the circumstances of long-term care workers and facilities.

Supporting caregiving responsibilities

  • Provide direct financial support for workers and their families: While long-term care companies wouldn’t be expected to offer the same types of support as the government, they could take a variety of financially helpful actions. For instance, they could make it easier for workers to access government support by keeping abreast of opportunities and assisting employees in applying for them. Food stamps/SNAP, scholarships for students, and local subsidized housing options immediately come to mind. They could also offer emergency funds, which could be generated by holding fundraisers to replenish the coffers, perhaps with matching funds from the company, giving the sense that the company is there for workers in times of hardship. Offering take-home meals at a discount would be an indirect financial help, as well as a time saver, for busy employees.
  • Invest in the childcare infrastructure: One of the biggest challenges in retaining workers during the pandemic has been related to childcare problems, but with a young, mostly female workforce, childcare has always been an issue. A nursing home with an on-site children’s day care program, or with a reduced fee voucher for a nearby day care service, would enhance the attractiveness of the job. Another creative idea is facilitating the sharing of informal day care resources or transportation to such resources, perhaps by having an internal message board where workers could find each other and meet each other’s needs.
  • Introduce family-supportive policies: Family-supportive policies allow those with caregiving responsibilities in the home to continue or return to work. Suggestions in this area focus on paid sick leave, flexible work schedules, and other protections such as “advance notice of work schedules, additional compensation for unexpected schedule changes or on-call hours, the right to accept or decline added or lengthened shifts, mandatory rest periods between shifts, and the right to request scheduling accommodations.” The experts suggest that these policies be coupled with an organizational culture that supports using them without fear of repercussions. 

Supporting workforce participation and career development

  • Invest in workforce development and education: Implementing these recommendations would include contributing to or covering the cost of training or courses for employees wishing to expand their skills or move into a new position within the organization, as well as offering “returnship” programs that allow people to come back to work after some time away (like an internship, but one focused on returning workers).  

Long-term care is in the midst of profound changes that necessitate rethinking not only how services are provided, but how staff members are recruited and retained. 

I’m reminded of the Oldsmobile advertisement from the late 1980’s, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Marketing for the nursing home of the future might emphasize, “This is not your grandmother’s nursing home.” 

Perhaps we’ll attract staff to these upgraded facilities with the tagline, “This is not your parents’ nursing home job.”

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, visit her at EleanorFeldmanBarbera.com.

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.