By Greg Corns, VP of Development, Acquisitions, and Strategic Alliances for Solterra Senior Living
On nearly every call or conversation with an industry counterpart, staffing is the topic we seem to gravitate to. Many of the leading ALFs have used, and continue to use, staffing agencies to support their operation—some more so than others.
The biggest takeaway after these calls is that no one really has the golden ticket with regard to solving the staffing dilemma. So I thought I would look behind the curtain and find out what the agencies were doing to recruit and retain caregiver talent.
The agencies I spoke to only provided full-time staffing opportunities requiring a minimum of 30 hours per week to qualify for benefits, PTO, sick leave, etc. They have strong back office teams that consist of full-time recruiters, SEO/marketers, trainers, human resources, and transition staff.
In addition to supporting ALFs, the agencies I spoke to had contracts with Medicaid, group homes, and home care agencies. This scale required that they have the back office in place to support the large pool of care staff they have on their team.
What Led Caregivers to Agencies?
I was curious why one would choose an agency over working for an ALF. Below are the most common reasons agencies are attractive to agency team members.
It Must Be the Money
While money is important, it wasn’t the one thing that attracted most of the agency staff. In fact, I learned that in many cases the agencies are paying the same rates we are. … Interesting.
As we all know, staff burnout occurred before the pandemic, and the pandemic just exacerbated this fact. In ALFs today, and with the ongoing staffing shortages, we call upon our staff to serve more residents during their shift. They rarely get a break, and when someone calls off, they are often called upon to work a double. In many cases, this is due to the ED managing expenses, i.e., not using an agency to fill the position.
The agency caregiver likes working in ALFs; they just don’t want to work a regimented shift schedule. They get bored, which they feel leads to complacency.
The reality is that the workforce has changed. Today’s worker places a high premium on lifestyle choices, which may mean attending their kids’ plays, games, etc.—something they might not be able to do when on staff at an ALF.
They value meeting new people and residents, and having the ability to work at more than one location. This provides satisfaction and in many cases great joy.
They don’t want to get pigeonholed in one role; they want the ability to try other things. They don’t see a great deal of upward movement in the ALF, although they hear about it a lot. They want less stress, and agencies, with their diverse portfolios, allow them to have that.
Listening to why caregivers choose to work for agencies reminds me much of what the gig economy offers: FLEXIBILITY. Work when you want, in a position that fits your lifestyle.
If you’re a student, agencies will work to create a schedule near your school and with the hours that allow you to be a full-time student. If you have kids and both you and your spouse work, the agencies will create schedules for you when the kids are sick and someone needs to be home.
If you do feel burnt out, the agency can place you in an environment where you may work one-on-one with a single resident and at their home.
Individuals want input into their lives. They don’t want to be told the only way you can work at our communities is to fit into our schedules.
When I was with Ticketmaster, we couldn’t stand ticket brokers. They would buy tickets from season ticket holders and resell them for exorbitant prices. We did all the work creating the systems and support, and they outperformed us financially with resale.
We finally figured it out, and rather than fight them, we outperformed them. We created a barcoded ticket and a marketplace allowing the season ticket holder to sell their tickets and keep the proceeds. Innovation.
It seems like we suffer from a lack of talent in the pool. If we took what we learned from the agencies, could we expand our reach, integrating a FLEX system that appealed to people like: early retirees who wanted to work one to two days a week, high school and college students, and parents who are looking for extra income and have time after they drop their kids at school?
Maybe we should consider a joint venture with other ALFs in our area, creating our own staffing agencies. Rather than expanding our support staff and offering crazy sign-on bonuses, etc., we support the joint venture agency.
Many of us use third parties in our communities to perform services in areas that we are not proficient at or because the scale they bring makes sense—i.e., dining service, grounds maintenance. Maybe we look to outsource our care staff and instead put our focus on creating proactive outcomes utilizing AI/machine learning technologies, integrated third-party technologies that enable us to get out in front of situations before they occur?
I believe our workforce has changed for good. I don’t see things coming back to the way they were. Working at Ticketmaster was a great lesson for me. Had it not been for the brokers, we would not have seen the future. Maybe it’s our time to pivot and take control?