John O’Connor

Any long-term care professional will tell you that finding and keeping qualified employees is getting harder by the day.

For reasons that range from The Great Resignation to greener pastures elsewhere, workers in this — and many other fields as well — are giving employers the old sayonara salute.

Which means the incredibly difficult job of running a long-term care facility keeps getting that much harder. Which means the remaining employees must work even more. Which means weeks or months may pass until a suitable replacement is found, hired and trained.

None of these developments are what might be called welcome.

So it would be an extreme understatement to say that keeping staff from leaving is a good thing. To do so certainly reduces administrative burdens and other headaches.

But a new study appearing in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society lays out the best reason of all for keeping the keepers: it leads to better care.

“While these actions are challenging — especially given that nursing homes are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, they are clearly warranted if we seek an improved quality of care for nursing home residents,” Qing Zheng, Ph.D.,  lead author and health economist at research firm Abt Associates, told my colleague Danielle Brown.

Investigators used Payroll-Based Journal data for more than 13,600 nursing homes from October 2018 through September 2019 to compare staff turnover measures to nursing home quality measures and star ratings. 

What did they find? Among the 5-Star facilities, turnover averaged 40.7%. But in 1-Star facilities, it was 53.4%. Think there might be a connection here?

Look, I’m not going to argue that losing 40% of your workers each year is ideal. It’s not. But when more than half walk out the door? Yikes!

It’s hardly a stretch to imagine that long-timers are likely to outperform newbies. Members of the first group are more familiar with the ins-and-outs of how their facilities run. They know residents better and are more likely to buy in.

We are hearing a lot these days about ways to improve care quality in long-term care settings. Yet one of the best answers of all could not be more obvious: keep caregivers from leaving.

How much of a priority should that be? I’d say we need to make it Job One.

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

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