8 Great Ways to Cut Costs in Senior Care

May 25, 2021 Lynne Jackson


Keep senior care quality high and costs low with these tips

Every day, you juggle competing priorities—providing quality care and containing costs on a comparatively tight budget. If you’re like many senior care operators, you do this on a near zero operating budget with little room to cover unexpected expenses.

You may not have all the cost-saving options as other industries, which shrink their workforce in tough times. In fact, you probably face a staffing shortage that makes filling employee schedules even more costly.

But you need adequate staffing to deliver quality care and meet compliance requirements. As a result, you must meticulously manage employee schedules and costs to stay afloat.

Fortunately, a few best practices and technology can help you reduce hidden costs while maintaining employee schedules that meet internal, federal, and state requirements.

Track every penny

It sounds simple but it’s easier said than done when unplanned expenses from labor costs to PPE occur every day.

With the right technology, you can track current and past expenses so you can more efficiently budget for future demands. Remember to track all expenses and income streams, including operations, staffing, housing, insurance, medical equipment, licenses, and furnishings. The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommends you factor in future projects, technology, and activities into their budgets.

Like many senior care operators, about 25% of your budget goes to housing costs, including buildings, utilities, maintenance and repairs. Create five and 10-year plans for renovations and incorporate it in your monthly budget. This will help you spread the costs over a long period and ensure you keep your facility safe for residents. Technology spends can be intimidating. But did you know you can get help funding big projects?

The American Rescue Plan and the CARES Act offers tax credits than can offset your costs and help you reap long-term benefits.  Synergi Partners and SmartLinx have teamed up to help assisted living and skilled nursing operators find and apply for available tax credits.

Still everyday expenses, especially labor costs can make sticking to your budget tough. Labor costs often exceed 70% of monthly expenses in many senior facilities. They also represent one of toughest variables to control especially when you must scramble to fill gaps in employee schedules when workers call out or don’t show up their shifts.  Read on to learn how to better contain these costs.

Make proactive employee scheduling a priority

As a long-term care and post-acute care operator, you know you must staff your facility according to Patient Per Day (PPD) census values. Failing to do so can jeopardize your Five-Star Rating, reduce Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements and affect physician referrals.

Employee scheduling often requires a lot of manual tasks, from determining PPD values to finding qualified staff for each shift and inputting them into the employee schedule. You probably use technology to automate some of these tasks but still find yourself manually adjusting your employee schedules to comply with regulations and support your staff’s scheduling preferences. After all, creating employee schedules that put the right people in the right places, three shifts a day, 365 days a year is always challenging.

You can save time and money by automating end-to-end employee schedule creation. To support PPD census values, you need an employee scheduling system that automatically pulls census values from complimentary medical applications.

Employee scheduling systems purpose-built for senior care can help you save you more time and boost employee engagement by proactively creating employee schedules that support your nurses’ scheduling

preferences as well as PPD census values. A proactive employee scheduling system enables Trilogy Health Services to create nurse schedules for 110 senior facilities in minutes.

Automatically adjust employee schedules to support residents 

Creating employee schedules to match PPD values is essential but solves only half of the equation. To streamline manual scheduling tasks and ensure compliance, you must quickly accommodate changes to resident needs (PPD census values) in your employee schedules.

To do this, you need a workforce management system that harnesses real-time data from employee scheduling, time tracking, payroll, and compliance applications and consolidates it on a centralized console.  The employee scheduling system must automatically import changes to PPD census values and change nurse schedules to reflect the new information.

In addition, you know some employees will fail to show up for their shifts. However, since you can’t predict who or when, you must scramble to find qualified workers to cover the employee scheduling gaps on the fly.

An employee scheduling system that’s fully integrated with time tracking and attendance management capabilities can help you identify and close these costly scheduling gaps.

Keep in mind not all workforce management systems are the same.  Some claim to integrate employee scheduling and time tracking but cannot share real-time attendance data with the employee scheduling function. Instead, they use periodic batch reports to share data. Others require you download the data yourself and then create a report to monitor your staffing. This tedious manual process can leave shifts open, risk noncompliance, and compromise quality of care while you strive to identify and resolve staffing issues.

Look for a fully integrated workforce management system that not only tracks real-time attendance and employee scheduling, but also lets you monitor live staffing information. It should provide a centralized dashboard that displays the staffing status for all your units at-a-glance and help you immediately identify shortages.

Prevent unnecessary overtime

You may consider overtime fees a routine cost of running a senior care facility.  Afterall, keeping your facility fully staffed requires closing unexpected employee scheduling gaps as quickly as possible. Often this means, tapping your loyal nurses on the shoulder and asking them to take on extra hours.

But there’s a better way to close employee scheduling gaps without incurring excessive overtime or risking employee burnout.  The right workforce management system can help you close open shifts without unnecessary overtime or agency fees.

The workforce management system should:

  • Identify employee scheduling gaps as they happen.
  • Automatically lists qualified employees available to fill each open shift.
  • Prioritize employee list by hours worked and organizational policies.
  • Automatically offer shifts to selected employees who won’t incur overtime.
  • Manage and alert you of all employee responses
  • Automatically update the employee schedule once you approve open shift requests

Empower nurses to prevent employee scheduling gaps

Wouldn’t it be nice if your employees could resolve employee scheduling gaps before they happen? With the right technology they can. A mobile workforce management app can empower employees with to take control of their schedule and balance work-life responsibilities without resorting to last-minute PTO.

To do so, the mobile workforce management app must give workers access up-to-date employee schedules instantaneously, so they always know where and when they’re expected to work. Since many senior care employees work in multiple facilities and rotating shifts, this is essential.

The app should not only let employees access up-to-date nurse schedules, but also let them make scheduling changes anytime, anyplace. They can access live employee schedules, find an open shift and send a shift request in moments. If they can’t work a scheduled shift, they can use the app to swap shifts with a co-worker.

Stop overstaffing

You longer need to add back up nurses into your employees to cover for last-minute absences. When your workforce management system identifies employee scheduling gaps in real-time and helps you fill them immediately, you can create employee schedules that fit your actual need rather an anticipated shortage.

However, many operators overstaff and don’t even know it. If you cannot access live staffing data for all units at-a-glance, you could be one of them. You must be able to visualize real-time staffing for all your facilities in a consolidated, color coded dashboard. Then you can see where there are too many staff as well as where there are too little. You can immediately reallocate your resources to meet PPD requirements.

End buddy punches, unscheduled and early punches

You probably don’t know how much money you lost paying employees who are not actually working. Buddy punches have plagued senior care operators for years.  Employees routinely swipe a “buddy”  into work after a break or before a shift. They did this in multiple ways, such as holding the buddy’s  badge to the time clock, punching in their timecard, or inputting their credentials.  The “buddy” gets to enjoy a longer break or gets away with tardiness.

The right time clock and integrated employee scheduling system eliminates this problem immediately.

The time-sensitive clock in window requires employee enter the facility as soon as they punch in so they cannot punch in someone else’s credentials. Biometric access prevents workers from using another person’s identity.

Even touchless time clocks prevent buddy punches by requiring workers complete punch in requirements in their mobile workforce management app, which generates a time sensitive, unique QR code. Workers must hold the QR code up to clock within the allotted time frame. The app will not allow them to generate a QR code for another employee.

When workers try to punch in a few minutes early, the time clock automatically checks their schedule and notifies them of their scheduled clock in window. The workforce management system requires employees who are not scheduled to work to obtain manager permission before allowing them to punch in.

Identify inefficiencies and streamline operations

Your workforce management may automate some core functions, like employee scheduling and attendance tracking but fail to flex to handle changes, requiring staff manually fix issues every day.

If your workforce management system requires you to manually adjust employee schedules for new residents or changing health care needs, you’re wasting resources and putting your facility at risk of noncompliance if your staff makes a mistake.

If you’re like many operators, you can consider Payroll-Based Journal reporting a business-critical responsibility that requires a significant amount of effort. Your Payroll-Based Journal system may collect records, but you must ensure they are auditable and verifiable but checking them against verifiable sources like timecards.  

To gain efficiency, reduce error, and improve your Five-Star Ratings, your Payroll-Based Journal system must be fully integrated with your workforce management applications. This way the system can produce auditable and verifiable Payroll-Based Journal reports on demand.  When infused with powerful analytics, the integrated workforce management system can monitor staffing against your desired Five-Star Rating and identify when you fall short when it happens so you can course-correct before the staffing issues affect your rating.

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