Two unaffiliated Michigan nursing homes partnered on a state staffing grant application that has netted them $3.5 million to help address workforce needs.

Holland Home and Edison Christian Health Center (pictured), both in Grand Rapids, MI, submitted a combined application to the state Department of Health and Human Services for a grant specifically targeting workforce shortages in skilled nursing facilities.

In interviews with McKnights Long-Term Care News on Friday, executives with both providers expressed optimism after landing the staffing grant. Despite their operating differences, they’ll be working collaboratively on worker retention and recruitment efforts that showcase the value caregivers bring to their communities. 

Theirs is not the largest grant given out, but it may be the most unique.

“We need to be ambassadors for our residents in terms of getting quality people in the door to meet their needs and give excellent care,” said Esther Heerema, assistant administrator for Edison Christian. “This is our calling. You get to make a difference in someone’s life and maybe people haven’t thought of it like that, but we want people to consider the art of caregiving. It is our calling. We really need to boost the idea that this is a worthwhile job.”

Part of the state’s criteria for scoring grant applications was to see providers working together. Adam Kinder, chief financial officer of Holland Homes, said that his company is not a mega-provider and the idea of partnering with another, similar provider in their community was an attractive prospect. The facilities have a combined census of just under 300.

The Holland Homes facilities that will benefit from the grant are Raybrook Manor and Breton Rehabilitation & Living Centre. Combined, the three facilities employ 540 caregiving and support staff.

“We’re looking at not just recruiting people to become part of the skilled nursing labor force, but also understanding what it takes to retain them,” Kinder said. “If we do this well, it could wind up helping the entire sector. If we can figure this out, we can report back to the state and say, ‘This works. You should consider funding it statewide to help move the needle.’”

While the overall staffing grant application was approved, the facilities still need to work with the state to determine how much funding will be allocated for programs and initiatives at each facility. Kinder said that an allowance to cover employee uniforms could provide up to three outfits and shoes for each employee at a cost of $200,000 to $300,000. Heerema said Edison Christian also is interested in a uniform allowance for its staff. Other options include assisting with childcare and transportation costs. 

“This is the first time we’ve done something at this level of coordination [with an unaffiliated facility],” Kinder said. “Skilled nursing is in rough shape throughout the state. We thought about, how can we elevate this within our community? The folks providing care in our buildings should be held up in our community. You’re caring for someone you don’t know — that’s awesome.”

The state awarded $67 million to six long-term care organizations, including Holland Homes and Edison Christian. The other grant recipients are: 

•  $25 million to Heath Care Advancement PROGRAM

•  $5.1 million to LeadingAge Michigan

•  $5.9 million to Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council

•  $26 million to Ciena Healthcare

•  $1.4 million to Mission Point Health Care.