Here’s Why Staffing Keeps Senior Living CEOs Up At Night

July 19, 2017, Tim Regan, Senior Housing News - If the senior living industry faces one imminent challenge related to the looming demand wave, it’s staffing.  Widespread labor shortages and stiff competition in some markets makes hiring good employees particularly challenging these days.  Can anything be done about it? 

Four senior living CEOs tackled that very question during a July 13 panel discussion moderated by PointClickCare’s Travis Palmquist at the Senior Housing News Summit in Chicago.

Here’s what the CEOs had to say when asked what kept them up at night:

Randy Richardson, president of Vi:

“Well, after the recession and the financial market meltdown, the housing market collapse, I don’t lose sleep over much anymore.

However, looking forward, I think there are things that we as an industry need to address.  We are going to have workforce issues… that we’ll have to deal with, but primarily, [we’ll have to focus on] getting more people into the industry and engaged in what we do in order to provide service and care.

Depending on what survey you look at, by 2025 we’ll be short over a million caregivers in the system.  So, where are those people going to come from?  That’s a big issue that we need to be involved in.

Then the other things is… affordability.  Because the reality is, the future generation, my generation, is not well prepared for retirement or have the funds for the type of care they might need when they get to that stage.  It’s going to be an issue and the support will have to come from the public sector.  And that will drive a number of issues in the industry that we’ll have to address.  It’s something that’s going to be critical to look at as we go forward.”

Ken Jaeger, founder and CEO of MorningStar Senior Living:

“Obviously, 10 of our 20 operating communities are in Colorado, which currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.3%.  If you’re one of those 2.3%, you really don’t want to work, because there are ‘help wanted’ signs everywhere in every industry.

I just hate getting a family member letter saying you’re understaffed or there’s some openings in your community.  We’re doing everything it takes to be at staff.  We like to overstaff because we know with turnover, people are being pulled away.

I like to follow the Chick-fil-A model.  They have an aggressive staffing plan.  They have a career path for their team members and one of the lowest turnover rates in the country and in the fast food industry.

I meet with a lot of [Chick-fil-A] general managers to figure out how it is that they are able to keep their staffing so high and low turnover.  That’s the thing we’re constantly working on is, what not only attracts a quality team member but what keeps the retention high. I would say that’s the state of the union right now.”

Keven J. Bennema, president and CEO of Charter Senior Living:

“Again, if you believe what you read, the demand that’s going to hit us eventually, we’ve got to build somewhere around 300-500 communities, maybe even more a year, to keep up with the looming demand.

And who’s going to run these communities?  The lifeblood of your community is the $8 – $12 an hour employee.  First and foremost, if you can reduce your turnover by 5%, I think it impacts your NOI by 1% in the positive.

It’s your hiring practices, it’s how you treat your people, it’s putting things like career paths in place.

The only way we’re going to solve the leadership problem is believing in the potential leaders that are already in your community.  And we have those.  Just because you’re a caregiver doesn’t mean that person doesn’t have desires and goals to sit up here and be one of us.

We are trying to identify career paths for people so it’s more than just a job, it’s a career.  So they don’t see an ad and go down the street for another quarter.

A quarter is a lot when you’re making $10 an hour.  The human capital issue is huge.  But I really believe that, in our communities, we have leaders, and we just have to dig a little deeper to find them and bring it out.  And that’s our job as operators.”

Tana Gall, CEO of Blue Harbor Senior Living:

“I’ve been trying to think of something that keeps me up at night.  And I have to agree, it’s workforce development.  We’re in the business of people serving people.  And finding the right people, keeping the right people.

I’m a huge believer over the executive director being lifeblood of all of our organizations.

Everyone is important, but if you hire the right executive director or general manager, pretty much everything else falls into place.  Finding those great people out there that attract great people that work for them… that’s the silver bullet.  That sounds so simple, but it’s actually very hard. It is looking for the superstars in our building today that will lead our industry down the road.

One of the highlights of my career has been teaching at a university in Washington, kids in the hospitality school, about our industry, because they just don’t know about it. I love that.  I love looking out at 200 kids in a room and asking them how many know about our industry.  Surprisingly, more know than I expected.  But I like to tell them at 22 years old… if you take a job in our industry, you’ll be at this table in a really short amount of time.  You’ll get to do what you want to do.

I think that’s all of our job… to make sure we’re out there changing the perception and breaking down the stereotypes.  And finding those right people to get in and work for us and creating the career path.

We’re going to have to be creative…there are great people out there who want to give back, we just need to find them and keep them.  It definitely keeps me up at night.”