With all this depressing data, is there any hope for aging services and the vulnerable population we serve?

By Denise Boudreau-Scott

The staffing crisis. Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates our country will need an additional 1.3 million nursing, home health, and personal care aides in the next ten years, a fact that makes me want to crawl under my desk and curl up in the fetal position.

That daunting number is in addition to the shortage of talent already plaguing aging services. Combine these numbers with the shrinking number of caregivers, primarily women aged 25-50, who most often provide family care and support and we have what can only be described as a true crisis on our hands.

Is There Hope?

With all this depressing data, is there any hope for aging services and the vulnerable population we serve?

As someone who strives to find the silver lining in any and all situations, and usually does, even I must admit I was overwhelmed with a sense of dread when researching our nation’s staffing shortage. But then I turned to the classical language of Latin.

When I was a Cyndi Lauper loving, lace-gloved wearing, high school student I was forced to study this romance language for three years. My friends and I referred to Latin as the “useless” language. Years later, I finally found a use for the language as a source of hope for the long-term care staffing crisis.

It turns out the word crisis finds its roots in the Latin word certus, which means to sift or separate. Like searching for gold, a crisis filters out the dirt and leaves you with what’s important. What if the silver lining to our staffing crisis is that we are left with a treasure? A treasure that comes in the form of remarkable team members who are supported by their organizations like never before.

Your Most Important Asset

The current and looming staffing crisis has organizations taking another look at their commitment to their most important asset: people. The majority of leaders in our field have known about the importance of employee engagement for organizational outcomes, but few organizations have acted to develop processes to improve engagement.

I often challenge my clients to compare census data to employee data. Daily census numbers are analyzed and questioned about why census isn’t higher, what happened this month that census dipped so low or what actions can be taken to raise census.

In comparison, if information regarding employees, such as satisfaction, engagement, turnover, and retention is collected, it’s rarely given the same scrutiny. Ask yourself the following:

  • When is the last time someone actually reviewed the employee survey information in your organization?

  • Was the feedback from employees acted upon and communicated to them?

  • How often is retention and turnover information reviewed to determine what’s going right so you can do more of it?

  • How many team members leave after working just a week, a month or a year? Why are they leaving?

The easy answer for many organizations is to say, “Yes, we do that!” In my experience, though, it’s not often done well. Assumptions are made about what is happening and why. Some of the frequent assumptions I hear about engagement and turnover: “People don’t like change.” “The younger generation doesn’t want to work like our generation.” “They didn’t know the work would be so hard so they left.” “They are a professional at orientation and just go place to place attending orientation instead of working.”

Frankly, I don’t believe any of it. If your organization is going to survive the impending crisis, it needs to sift through all the data available and take an active approach to improving engagement. If you don’t, employees feel disempowered and distant from the company’s vision. You risk not only losing them from your organization, but also chasing them from the field of aging services when they chalk up their one bad experience to a terrible industry for employment.

As our field sifts during our crisis mode, all of the unnecessary bits, such as an excessive scrutiny of census and a disproportionate view of financials, will fall away. The outcomes we desire will ultimately depend on what’s left in the sieve: team members who are worth their weight in gold.

The impending staffing crisis is not what any of us want, but as Caesar once said in his surely perfect Latin, “Alea iacta est.” The die has been cast. There is no going back. There will be a staffing shortage in the future if nothing changes. But there’s still time before those predictions are a reality, so take action.  

Here are six tips for tackling the staffing crisis.