Senior editor Kimberly Marselas asks: What turns some would-be retirees into LTC superheroes?
Kimberly Marselas

My middle child, not yet old enough for middle school, recently asked me when I planned to retire. Me of no gray hair, of the too-small 401K, of exciting career accomplishments yet to be achieved!

For this, I have his wonderful piano teacher to thank. Though only in her late 50s, she’s fortunate enough to no longer need to work. Still, she continues to offer lessons because of her dual love for music and nosy little children like mine.

So here we were on our way to our local art center, middle child and I, having a car conversation about retirement age, benefits and investing. Just me and an 11-year-old casually exploring concepts like compound interest. As you would imagine, there was a lot of quiet head nodding.

Until I shared with him that some people never truly retire because they so love what they do. Now that caught his interest. I could see his little mind working behind now-bright eyes: What kind of job could I have that I’d never want to quit? 

The question of who retires and who doesn’t has certainly caught my attention a time or two during the pandemic.

Who will stay and who will go now?

For every doomsday story we’ve read about mass flight from the healthcare sector, there has been a smaller but-no-less compelling tale of an individual worker continuing on despite being retirement-eligible.

Some long-time staff have come back to nursing homes, despite burnout, despite the risk, despite having to take up the slack for missing workers. Sometimes, they’ve returned or stuck around a little longer because of such factors. They know the difference they can make.

In Minnesota, nurse Cindy Roden, 70, recently came out of retirement just a few months after leaving Aicota Health Care Center. The facility needed to reopen a COVID-19 unit but had no one to work it. Cindy and a friend, also a retiree, agreed to rejoin the labor pool and handle night shifts.

Policymakers will continue to explore recruitment and retention strategies. But these super-performers also can help us better understand and improve career longevity.

Not all LTC superheroes wear capes

If you have one on your staff, don’t miss the chance to involve them in your workforce initiatives. They likely have valuable insights about retention that you might not have considered.

What are the moments in their careers that solidified their loyalty? What are the conditions that made them feel appreciated, respected and willing to sacrifice their precious retirement years? How have resident and staff relationships have played a role?

How are these LTC superheroes impervious to the burnout that an estimated 20% of healthcare workers say has them ready to change careers with just a few months or years under their belt? Or how do they find the motivation to push through it?

Of course, money matters. Even my kid gets that.

Roden told the Minnesota Reformer that she was paid a premium to come back to work. But she also responded to the idea of being needed by a sector and residents she has “always loved.”

There are generational values and mindsets at play here, and providers can’t teach those by osmosis. 

But by simply keeping these long-serving employees on board and ready to interact with eager, young staff members, they can increase the chances that those values are passed down. It’s an important signal to tomorrow’s workers that investing in community and caring can be as rewarding as investing for our own golden years.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

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