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Faced with staffing and retention challenges so common in long-term care, a group of 16 nursing homes is trying a fresh approach: hiring an onboarding and retention specialist to manage the employee experience at each building.

These specialists began work Jan. 1 as part of the Onboarding and Retention Success program from Minnesota-based senior care service provider Empira. The positions have the potential to more than pay for themselves over time, according to Heather Johnson, Empira’s executive director.

“We looked at the cost of turnover in our communities at the two top positions. Some of our communities last year spent $1.1 million in turnover on [certified nursing assistants] and nurses alone,” she told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Wednesday. “If an onboarding and retention specialist can save one or two nurses a year, they’ve paid for themselves.”

Other key parts of the program include data collected from onboarding surveys and ongoing yearly engagement surveys, as well as software which help analyze the data and flag staff members who may be at risk of leaving

The onboarding and retention specialists are dedicated resources at each facility — tasked with deploying a facility’s staffing plans, welcoming and supporting new and veteran employees, tracking employee experience data and building relationships at the nursing home. 

Johnson emphasized that this goes far beyond the role of traditional HR employees, which, in long-term care, are often more focused on legal tasks and less integrated into on-the-ground facility culture.

Funding, driving results

Empira was able to secure money for the innovation through the Minnesota Department of Human Services PIPP funding — performance-based funds that require the facilities involved in the OARS program to develop and meet staffing and retention goals over the course of three years. 

The plans developed by Empira integrate data and suggestions from sources such as the CMPRP Toolkit 3 from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, experienced long-term care consultants and internal data gathered from its employee experience software. 

The member facilities — with Minnesota long-term care providers Cassia, Presbyterian Homes and Services, Volunteers of America and Saint Therese —  also adjust their plans monthly as needed based on collected data.

While Empira does not yet have detailed analysis, preliminary data from the facilities with specialists on staff is already showing signs of improvement, Johnson told McKnight’s

She recognized how vital the PIPP funding from the state has been, acknowledging that many long-term care providers need assistance to implement new tools like those in the OARS program. 

Empira approached the state’s DHS and pitched the program initially — something that may be an opportunity for other providers as well.

“I would say it doesn’t hurt to look at that,” she said. “This is a problem that we can’t expect our communities to solve on their own. So there needs to be some additional resources brought, and that additional resource can be an onboarding and retention specialist.”

With the costs of turnover so high, however, Johnson told McKnight’s that the same old tactics aren’t an option anymore.

“We have to do something and we have to think outside the box,” she said. “If we’re going to have caregivers, we’ve got to be able as organizations to care for the people who are caring for our people.”