Short Staffed? See How Inclusion and Engagement Can Help

February 19, 2021

Healthcare occupations represent one of the fastest growing employment sectors. In many cases, the need outpaces the candidate pool. For example, long-term care and post-acute care facilities are bracing for even higher demands fueled by an aging population and longer lifespans.

And that was the case even before COVID-19 hit.  

COVID-19's impact on the staffing shortage

Sadly, this scenario emerged when more skilled nursing care was needed, not less. COVID-19 outbreaks created even more challenges and further thinned the ranks of skilled nursing and senior living staff, which led to even greater staffing shortages, according to a report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

In December 2020, more than 3,000 senior care facilities didn’t have enough staff to care for residents while nearly a quarter of facilities didn’t have enough direct-care staff. As a result, thousands of residents who needed assisted living services or skilled nursing care lived in facilities that lacked the number of employees needed to consistently provide high levels of care.


Hidden costs behind the staffing shortage

This staffing crisis threatens the quality of care, further stressing a population that is already vulnerable. Research confirms facilities with staffing shortages were more likely to experience COVID-19 outbreaks and fatalities than their well-staffed counterparts.

With the impact of COVID-19 and flurry of negative news, family members are more intensely scrutinizing facilities and more likely to conclude the level of care doesn’t meet their expectations. These perceptions can further jeopardize a facility’s reputation.

In addition, understaffed facilities struggle to comply with federal and state staffing regulations, especially Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Low Five-Star Ratings can hurt per patient Medicare reimbursements, the facility’s reputation, and even insurance rates.

This means the level of staffing represents a top priority for operators whose Medicare funding and reputation depend on ensuring that staffing is adequate to meet the needs of residents.

Staffing shortages are not only hard on senior care residents, but they also affect remaining staff. The psychological stress can become overwhelming, which can also multiply the likelihood more staff will leave.

Because staffing shortages are a perennial problem for senior care facilities, attracting and retaining quality employees is a top priority. This is true during the pandemic and will remain true once the immediate threat has passed. Technology can help. Mobile shift management provides some important answers to enable facilities to maintain staffing levels.

The key to employee retention--a happy workforce 

Staff provide the most important service a senior care facility offers – care. Good employees mean the difference between success and failure. They provide security and comfort to residents and boost the facility’s reputation.

Keeping these employees satisfied with their jobs, letting them know their employers care, can be the basis of a quality experience for clients and the best way for a senior care facility to succeed. See Happy Staff, Happier Residents.

An important weapon to fight staffing shortages is an engaged workforce. If staffers are content with their employment, they’re more likely to stay put and may even spread the word encouraging friends and family to join them.

Why employee scheduling matters

Quality employee scheduling software helps foster a positive work environment because intuitive employee schedules make life easier on workers, who always know exactly where they need to be and when. When the employee scheduling software works with mobile workforce management app, it lets staff access key information anywhere, anytime. This is crucial since many senior care workers juggle employee schedules at multiple facilities.

The employee scheduling and mobile workforce management app also empowers staff to control their employee schedule in a way that meets their needs and helps managers best support them.

Workers can trade shifts and volunteer to work open shifts. They can also receive notifications when management responds to their requests. This improves communications, which is a priority in any happy, functional workplace.

Consider expanding recruiting efforts  

It’s worthwhile to drill down on who can fill growing vacancies, where they can be found, and how to meet their needs.

One answer could be current immigrant populations, which can help solve the puzzle of staffing senior care communities.

As Baby Boomers age out of the workforce, immigration is projected to offset the decline in the population of working-age U.S. residents, according to Pew Research.

Immigrants comprise 17 % of the U.S. population, but more than 23% of long-term care workers, according to a study in the journal Health Affairs. A similar percent of nursing, psychiatric and home health aids are immigrants, according to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Federal government statistics show immigrants made up 17.4% of the civilian labor force or 28.4 million people in 2019, but just 13.3% of the civilian labor force in 2020. It remains to be seen what impact the new administration will have on the percentage of the U.S. workforce that’s made up of immigrants moving forward.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, immigrant women who work in the health care industry are more likely than U.S. born women “to work in direct health care support.”

The institute adds, “As in the past, immigrants can be expected to play a significant role in the future of U.S. health care.”

It could be a good fit for operators and employees. Government statistics confirm foreign-born workers are more likely to be employed in service occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,(BLS) 22.5% of immigrants are in service jobs, compared to 16% of U.S.-born workers. 

If properly supported, new citizens are more likely to commit to the facility they work in and less likely to pursue greener pastures in another industry. Research indicates that providing desirable employee benefits and work experience encourages workers to stay with "73% of employees say they'd stay at their company if there were more skill-building opportunities, according to LinkedIn research. In addition,  "89% of employers think employees leave because of money, when only 12% actually do," according to  (O.C. Tanner)

They are also more likely to stay with an organization that offers skill-building opportunities and the flexibility they need to manage work and family responsibilities. 

Supporting workers

How do you attract and keep workers? Consider what makes workers happy at work and add the complexity of adjusting to a new culture and job.

Like everyone else, senior care workers need to be recognized, respected and supported.

So, employers should consider social factors that can affect employees and how management can provide accommodations. For example, helping with transportation to and from work and being willing to accommodate employees’ schedules and personal needs can go a long way to conveying to them that they are appreciated.

The workforce hails from multiple generations and cultures. Finding ways to make them feel comfortable with the workflows and communication practices is essential. The right tools and practices will lesson stress, promote a smooth transition into the workplace, and increase employee retention.  

Employee scheduling and workforce tools that make life easier

As mentioned above, an important way to foster a satisfied workforce is by making it easier to change shifts as needed through high-quality, easy-to-use and flexible employee scheduling software and mobile shift management apps. Providing this tool from day one is crucial.

Intuitive mobile workforce management apps and employee scheduling can help set staff up for success. The mobile app can help workers meet their need to access up-to-date employee schedules anytime and anyplace.

To work well, the app must be graphic-based and highly intuitive, as well as simple and straightforward. It must:

  • Provide access to employee schedules and personal information in the way users expect to see it.
  • Require no learning curve.
  • Be able to support any mobile device, tablet, phone, Android, Apple etc.

In other words, all mobile employee scheduling apps are not equal; employers should make sure to evaluate the usability from the end user’s perspective. 

Making schedules work for employees

Juggling families and work commitments is challenging in the best times, and even more so during a crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because quality nursing care is needed around the clock, the work is ideal for caretakers who need flexible employee scheduling. They can tailor their employee schedule around their needs and families’ needs, while providing needed care to long-term care residents.

An effective employee scheduling and workforce management app can help here, too, by enabling workers to change their employee schedule anytime, easily and quickly. The best employee scheduling apps enable workers to:

  • Swap shifts with coworkers.
  • Submit PTO requests.
  • Get alerts when managers reply to a request.

That’s not always enough though. All workers, especially immigrants, want technology that’s simple to use. Workflows matter. They should be easy to follow, especially submission process. Instead of having staff send emails when they need to change their schedule, you can enable staff to so in a few clicks on their employee scheduling mobile app. 

Another thing to keep in mind is a lot of long-term care employees work in multiple facilities. Often, they’re running from one workplace to another in the same week or even the same day. Mobile shift management enables workers to manage their employee schedules easily and quickly.

Helping employees boost their income

The ability to make more money is critical for many workers. A mobile employee scheduling system creates this opportunity in real-time by automatically presenting workers with opportunities to fill open shifts and letting them respond to open shift requests quickly on their phones. 

The smartphone app designed to work for your workers

SmartLinx integrated employee scheduling and attendance management software works with the SmartLinx Go mobile app to accommodate employees while helping management support the level of resident population and PPD census values in real-time. It provides administrators access to live employee scheduling and attendance data for the whole enterprise on one dashboard to allow for more efficient tracking and adjustments.

The employee scheduling system provides information about available employees, filtered by their qualifications to fill open shifts and by facility policies and hours worked.

Workers can use the app to switch schedules with each other and quickly fulfill a facility’s needs by matching openings as they occur with their availability to work. They can arrange extra shifts when they need more income and time off when they have priorities at home or need to rest.

This virtually eliminates the need to haggle with supervisors and hunt down fellow workers to trade shifts. At the same time, administrators can monitor changes and offer adjustments in real time for all their facilities.

The workforce management app currently has an intuitive interface that enables workers whose first language isn’t English to identify tasks through symbols, taking some of the stress of translation away and mitigating the possibility of misunderstandings. We anticipate being able to support different languages in the not-too-distant future.

Request a free demo today and learn about SmartLinx™ -- our comprehensive, innovative, and cohesive suite of workforce management solutions.


Additional Resources

Top 2021 Trends That Will Transform Senior Living

Navigating the New Norm in Post-Acute and Senior Care

Staffing in a Crisis: How Senior Care Facilities are Addressing COVID-19

How to Use a Mobile App to Enhance Employee Productivity

Managing Overtime Costs During a Pandemic Report

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