John O’Connor

It’s hardly a news flash that long-term care has a labor shortage. These days, it’s a pretty rare facility that doesn’t have open slots right now.

Yet more often than not, the underlying problem is not so much a labor challenge as a wage challenge. After all, why would a sane person opt for the difficult work this sector demands if a better deal is available someplace else?  Especially if that someplace else doesn’t require attendance during nights, weekends or holidays?

As the year-plus pandemic winds down (apparently), many workers are slowly returning. Many, but not all. And more than a few of the commuters may be wondering if coming back was such a smart move, after all.

Why the reluctance? For some, relatively cushy payments from state and federal coffers may be in play. But I think the real issue goes deeper.

The pandemic gave lots of people unfettered months on end to consider not just their livelihoods, but how fulfilling those livelihoods actually are. To be sure, many who do the hard work this sector requires are strongly motivated to make a difference. But let’s face it, having one’s commitment tested day after day can take a toll. More than a few in this field have probably come to this troubling conclusion: They simply don’t like their jobs.

So it might be advisable for long-term care operators to prepare for a two-stroke labor challenge. The first part should look pretty familiar: replacing those who are already checked out. These folks have already made up their minds that they don’t want to work in your facility.

The second part will be a bit trickier. This will consist of managing/replacing workers who come back for a while, but just can’t seem to shake that newly-aroused antipathy. They too will be leaving. Just not as quickly. They’ll first want to find something that feels less like a thankless, unrelenting grind.

As a leader, you may soon be challenged to fill openings caused by both groups. That is, unless it becomes apparent that their ranks should also include you.

 John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s.