John O’Connor

For long-term care operators, finding and keeping talent is a constant challenge.

It’s not hard to see why. The work tends to be physically and psychologically demanding. The hours can be long and unpredictable. Then there’s the pay.

As 2022 nears its midpoint, nursing homes aren’t just struggling to find and keep enough workers. At many facilities, things are going from bad to OMG.

It’s at times like these when many operators try to size up the problem and assess what can be done. It’s also at times like these when some operators put the blame exclusively on external forces. The first reaction is eminently justified. The second can be lethal.

To be sure, there are some truly nasty external forces at play these days. It’s not like nursing home operators put out the welcome mat for the COVID-19 wrecking ball. It just showed up. Same goes for the highest inflation rates we’ve seen in four decades. Rounding out this terrible trio is the Great Resignation.

True, nobody in long-term care asked for any of these visitors. They are certainly real and formidable. But if we’re going to have a grown-up conversation, some of the industry’s staffing problems are anything but external in nature.

Many employees in this field are simply underpaid. Many are also burned out and getting way too little help. But let’s focus on the key reason hiring and retention is so challenging — money. Or to be more precise, the lack of it.

Look, I get it. Labor is the biggest operating expense in most communities. And all too many facilities are barely scraping by. The notion of substantially jacking up wages is enough to give more than a few CFOs the vapors.

That’s not to say other hiring and retention tools can’t be used. Things like better career advancement tracks, improved training, tuition assistance, mentoring, day care and better basic benefits can all help.

But they do not make a basic math problem go away. Many competitors for the same talent are willing to pay more. To be sure, money is not the only thing that matters. But to pretend it’s not a primary motivator is to deny reality.

So if you want to attract and keep qualified employees, you’d better be prepared to pay market-rate wages. Otherwise, you’ll keep losing out to those who do. And really, whose fault is that?

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.