Record numbers of nurses have left long-term care altogether, well more than 200,000 by some counts. As a result, skilled nursing facilities are facing some of the biggest challenges in their history as they struggle to recruit, rebuild and fortify their challenged workforces. Experts discuss here what kinds of novel approaches are working, and which aren’t.

1. A great place to start is offering the most attractive working environment possible, and that means on many fronts.

But be careful to avoid lapsing into workplace weaknesses, such as lack of attention or career ladders, that may have chased staff away in the first place, said Trish Richardson, director of post-acute care solutions for Relias.

“Healthcare, and the world in general, will not be returning to how it was pre-pandemic anytime soon,” Richardson said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has added immense stress to an already stressful field, generating increased burnout and inevitable turnover.”

“A thriving work environment where staff feel appreciated and recognized is essential,” she added. “Imagine a facility where leaders are fully engaged, support staff growth and development, and actively seek out and act on perspectives from the bedside.

“A culture that celebrates continuing education and flexible scheduling, and provides improved mental health resources and even child/elder care would be of incredible value for today’s healthcare workforce,” Richardson said.

2. More than ever, facilities have a wealth of recruitment tools at their disposal. Often, they remain unused.
“Technology is really a tool as an adjunct to leadership,” said Nanne Finis, RN, MS, chief nurse executive at UKG, a provider of workforce management and human resource management services that recently acquired Kronos.
For example, the company has developed an automated program to cultivate talent in undergraduate schools or technical schools.

“Developing that competitive edge is how you develop your culture,” she added.
“Successful recruiting today begins with the recognition that the healthcare workforce is in the driver’s seat more than at any other time in history,” Richardson noted.

Now is the time to ditch old habits like job boards, said Kendra Nicastro, director of business development for LeaderStat.

“A strong social media presence can keep your organization top of mind and help attract passive talent who may not be purposefully looking for a new position but who are keeping their options open,” she advised.

3. The same applies to retention: Keeping employees engaged is only half the battle.

“Wow” your new hires with “career advancement opportunities like Med-Aide Certification courses, putting an MDS coordinator through the RAC-CT program, or promoting an LPN to a supervisor role,” Nicastro added.
Facilities must be tuned in to new hires’ frequencies.

“By anticipating what employees want and actively engaging in conversations around their priorities, an employer can show that they care about employees’ personal growth and needs,” said Richardson.

Avoid the mistake of skimping on orientation and onboarding.

“Those first days and weeks are where the magic happens,” she noted. “Take time to help them assimilate into company culture. Provide a mentor outside of their core unit or team. This support strengthens workforce culture, engagement and retention.”

4. Finally, welcome and respect the legions of highly competent agency professionals, but not at the expense of your full-time workforce.

“Throughout the pandemic, agency staff have proven to be capable of more than just filling the gap roles. In fact, many have engaged for longer than the average 13-week contract,” said Richardson. “However, remember that your core staff have displayed tremendous commitment, never wavering in their support of your organization and most importantly, their residents.

“It’s tempting to lean on agency help, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of full-time staff,” Richardson added.
Be sure to show regular full-timers they’re valued and it will pay off, she stressed. ■

Workforce mistakes to avoid

» Emphasizing tired strategies that may have turned off staff in the first place.
» Thinking that hiring is over after onboarding. The hardest part is yet to come.
» Paying too much attention to agency help, instead of embracing and nurturing full-time staff.