Long-term care providers are well-aware that the industry is facing a staffing crunch, but new numbers put an exclamation point on those challenges.

New data from Gartner TalentNeuron reveals that as of this week, there are 43,531 jobs posted by direct employers at nursing homes, along with assisted living facilities and continuing care retirement communities. That’s an increase of more than 10,000 positions when compared to a typical month in 2018, the American Health Care Association noted in a blog post Tuesday.

“There is no question that long-term care providers are dealing with a workforce crisis and one of the main reasons for that is low unemployment,” Beth Martino, senior vice president of public affairs for the AHCA, said Wednesday.

The analysis notes that there are nearly 2.7 million potential candidates out there whose skills likely match qualifications sought by providers. But competition is fierce, with almost 3,000 direct competitors fighting for talent in January, and jobs staying posted for an average of 38 days.

It’s no longer enough for a skilled nursing leader to just place a job online and hope for responses, said Amber Rogotzke, executive VP of human resources for consulting firm Health Dimensions Group. Recruiters need to be out there actively tracking down applicants, or they may not receive any responses.

These demands are only going to worsen as the population ages. Rogotzke said one thing providers can do today to address their staffing issues is focus on leadership. The vicious cycle of turnover is only exacerbating long-term care’s staffing issues, she said, with low pay rates and tough hours leading to employee departures for greener pastures.

“We’re really confident that one of the ways that that we’re going to be able to at least strategically try to put a stop to that open backdoor is through engagement and through teaching strong leadership skills,” she said.

Susan Hildebrandt, VP, workforce initiatives for LeadingAge, noted that, in a low-unemployment economy, there just aren’t enough people willing to do intensive work for comparatively little money. Often, direct care workers turn to other opportunities that are less taxing and earn more money, such as retail.

LeadingAge members also are experiencing difficulty recruiting and retaining higher-level nurses who have a wider range of opportunities in healthcare. With a more varied payer mix, acute-care providers can offer better salaries and benefits, and the “regulatory climate in hospitals is far gentler than in nursing homes — another plus for healthcare professionals.”

Another problem is biases against aging and working with seniors, along with a general lack of knowledge about the field. Hildebrandt noted that members are trying to battle some of these hindrances fostering more positive cultures and developing “career ladders” so that workers have a clearer path forward in this organizations.

“LeadingAge is working hard to address these issues,” Hildebrandt said Wednesday.

Alex Johnston, TalentNeuron group VP at Gartner, also urged providers to focus on reducing the barriers to entry for candidates who may see a position as an “aspirational step up in their careers.” One way to do so is by searching non-obvious sources of talent to expand the overall candidate pool, such as teaching or daycare workers.

Nursing facilities can, then, offer on-the-job training and continuing education to help prepare those candidates for the roles. Offering relocation benefits can also help to ease geographic constraints and further widen the talent pool. 

“Hiring difficulty can be driven by a number of factors which are not always obvious to an employer,” Johnston said. “While available talent is one important dimension, this is often constrained by geographic limitations and the alternative options available.”