Navigating Long-Term Care Staffing Challenges: Insights from Marina Aslanyan and Melissa Powell

October 24, 2023 Lauren Kaufmann

In the world of long-term care and post-acute healthcare, staffing shortages have long been a persistent issue. These challenges have only been magnified by the proposed staffing mandates for skilled nursing facilities. In the recent McKnight’s webinar, “Be Proactive, Not Reactive: How Tech Automation Can Help to Overcome Workforce Challenges,” Marina Aslanyan, CEO of Smartlinx since 2014, and Melissa Powell, Executive Vice President and COO of Genesis Healthcare, engaged in a thought-provoking conversation about these ongoing issues and the proactive solutions that technology and automation can offer. In this webinar recap, we will dive deep into their insights and explore the critical shifts needed to address staffing challenges head on before they become a problem. 

 Webinar Key Focus Areas 

  1. Industry Staffing Trends and Their Impact on Long-Term Care: Recent trends in the healthcare industry present a paradox. On one hand, the elderly population requiring care is steadily growing, driving an increased demand for skilled nursing facilities. On the other hand, staffing shortages continue to persist. The challenge lies in bridging this gap between demand and availability of skilled healthcare professionals. 
  2. Best Practices to Address Workforce Challenges: Retention of staff has become a focal point for organizations, especially when combating high turnover rates. The quality of care provided is directly affected when staff retention is low, which is why organizations are actively working on attracting and retaining staff while maintaining a commitment to continuous care. 
  3. Tech Automation as a Proactive Solution: In the third segment of their discussion, Marina and Melissa delved into how technology automation can transform long-term care facilities from reactive entities to proactive ones. This shift aims to simplify complexity and enable real-time communication with service providers. 

Workforce Challenges: A Persistent Issue 

Staffing turnover has been a longstanding issue in the long-term care industry, predating even the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employee retention has become an increasing concern, with organizations allocating more budgetary resources to address it. Attracting and retaining staff over the long term has become a top priority for many facilities. 

High turnover rates not only disrupt the continuity of care but also burden organizations with recruitment costs. The average annual turnover rate for nursing homes currently exceeds 50%, a concerning statistic that creates immense pressure on both existing staff and recruitment efforts. 

The introduction of a new proposed CMS staffing mandate this year has further complicated the situation. A staggering 94% of nursing homes will need to increase staffing to meet these requirements, which has sparked debate among operators. While staffing concerns have long been a topic of discussion, this mandate has brought workforce management to the forefront of organizational challenges. 

Technological Solutions: The Future of Long-Term Care Staffing 

In response to these challenges, approximately 81% of healthcare professionals and long-term care facilities are looking to technology as a solution*. They are seeking engagement systems and technology options to manage budgets, operations, and real-time communication with their staff (whether that be W2 employees or temporary staff), which is why technology is evolving to be a cornerstone of proactive long-term care management. 

Melissa Powell emphasizes the importance of employee-centric strategies for retention. Historically, long-term care organizations have struggled to retain employees who often leave for higher-paying opportunities in hospitals. However, the pandemic has highlighted the need to improve retention and find creative solutions to keep staff. 

Some of these innovative solutions include enhancing onboarding processes, implementing mentorship programs, and providing ongoing support and training. Empowering staff to advance in their careers within the organization is also a key aspect of retention. 

Furthermore, managing staffing in long-term care is no longer a simple task. In the past, it was primarily about handling full-time employees. Today, organizations must grapple with a three-pronged approach, which encompasses not only full-time staff but also float pools and contingent labor from third-party providers. In recent trends, we've seen an increasing reliance on third-party providers for contingent labor. While this has become a reality in the industry, it presents challenges that need to be addressed proactively rather than reactively. Organizations must shift from last-minute staffing fixes to forward-thinking strategies. 

To effectively manage this complex landscape, schedulers need to evolve. In the past, they determined when and who would show up at facilities. This historical approach is no longer conducive what with nurses having more flexibility and agency over their schedules and organizations needing to offer partial shifts, create float pools, and work closely with contingent labor providers. 

This is one of the areas in which technology plays a pivotal role. Electronic programs for scheduling and staffing, real-time pay, and flexible shifts are some innovative solutions. Centralized scheduling, where a single scheduler manages multiple buildings, is becoming more prevalent, and this approach can be easily supported with the right technology partner.   

Harnessing the Power of Tech for Long-Term Care Staffing Success 

Electronic programs for scheduling and staffing can offer a means to seamlessly manage the aforementioned intricate three-pronged approach. These systems enable real-time adjustments based on fluctuations in census and provide a clear view of staffing needs. 

Various systems can also be connected to provide real-time data. By integrating census data into scheduling systems, organizations can react promptly to changes in patient numbers. This proactive approach ensures that the right number of staff is scheduled, reducing the need for last-minute adjustments and costly contingent labor. 

Marina Islanyan emphasizes the importance of maximizing PBJ (Payroll-Based Journal) ratings, a key metric for long-term care facilities. With the right technology, organizations can predict the impact of staffing decisions on their PBJ ratings. This enables them to find the optimal balance between maintaining high ratings and managing costs effectively. 

Melissa Powell acknowledges the challenges posed by staffing mandates, but she also highlights the importance of advocacy. The industry has an opportunity to share insights and experiences with policymakers to shape regulations that are effective and sustainable. 

The evolving role of technology in long-term care staffing management is also not just about automation but about predicting future trends and fostering proactive decision-making. With real-time data, organizations can optimize schedules, reduce reliance on costly contingent labor, and maintain high PBJ ratings. 

In short, as the industry navigates staffing mandates and evolving workforce dynamics, it is clear that technology is a powerful tool for achieving proactive, data-driven solutions. By harnessing the full potential of technology, long-term care facilities can ensure the highest quality of care while maintaining financial stability in these demanding times. 

Sources: Notable State of Automation Report 2022

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McKnights Webinar Be Proactive, Not Reactive: How Tech Automation Can Help to Overcome Workforce Challenges
McKnights Webinar Be Proactive, Not Reactive: How Tech Automation Can Help to Overcome Workforce Challenges


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