Changes in the workforce, generational trends, and demographics influence the future planning of any industry. In addition, the field of senior living has been hit by three unstoppable forces: the COVID-19 global pandemic, The Great Resignation, and an alarming shortage of registered nurses throughout the country.
SFCS’s 37th Annual By Design Conference welcomed panelists Bill Lowe of Chicago Methodist Senior Services (CMSS) and Deke Cateau of A.G. Rhodes to discuss their innovative solutions to appeal to the next generation of caregivers.
President and CEO, Bill Lowe, who has been working for CMSS for 30 years with 40 years of experience in the nonprofit and healthcare industry was the first to speak. The legacy of Chicago Methodist Senior Services began in 1896 when a six-room flat in Chicago was rented to provide housing for elderly women in need. Today, the organization has expanded its community and residential services to better provide for the changing needs of the people it serves. Additionally, Lowe spoke of the various partnerships CMSS made over the years providing programs to combat isolation and provide social connection.
“We began a partnership with Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE),” said Lowe. “It’s the only suburban one in the country and is a great program. And in 2019, we partnered with Mission Connections, another mission-based organization where we connected volunteers with older adults who were dealing with isolation.”
Next, A.G. Rhodes CEO, Deke Cateau, who has over fifteen years of long-term care and industry experience shared the origin of his organization. A.G. Rhodes, in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the city’s oldest non-profits dating back to the late 1800s, when successful businessman Amos Giles Rhodes provided the land and funds to rebuild a hospital for patients suffering from incurable diseases Proudly upholding dedication to excellent care throughout its decades long history, A.G. Rhodes has enjoyed continued growth and transformed the primary focus to providing quality senior living experiences.
“I want to touch on the demographics of our elders,” said Cateau. “As you can see, 93% of our elders are Black, overwhelmingly minority. 95% of our staff are Black. This statistic tells a lot.”
The topic of diversity within the field of senior living continued after an audience member inquired about immigration’s impact on the current available workforce. Cateau was quick to respond.
“There was a huge drop was the immigration rates from 2016 to 2017,” said Cateau . “Without getting political, the reality is our workforce comes from two sources: the population we have in the United States, and the population of immigrants that come to this country.”
Both panelists acknowledged the lack of students entering the senior living healthcare industry within the United States is also an issue. With more Baby Boomers (born in 1946-1964) leaving the workforce and with less Millennials (Born 1981-1996) to care for them, the field of senior living anticipated staffing issues long before the global pandemic’s influence.
“Looking at demographics like this made me realize the disconnect between the aging population and available staff,” said Lowe. “We’ve never had enough American workers to grow our food, and now we’re seeing the same across multiple industries.”
With the shrinking labor force and tight labor markets, Lowe and Cateau shared their organization’s unique solutions.
After learning that 15% of registered nurses in the US are foreign educated and that 50% of those nurses originated from the Philippines, CMSS developed a recruitment program for Filipino nurses, which then grew into providing training and relocation assistance.
Lowe explained how CMSS supports the foundational Filipino nursing education already provided with helping each candidate apply for their social security card and providing their first two months of housing once they arrive in the US. Lowe reported that more than 90% have stayed for a 3-year commitment or longer with their families. The program’s success stems from the nurses’ eagerness to work in the United States after obtaining their 4-year bachelor’s degrees and licenses.
Staff Enrichment Solution
Cateau shared that A.G. Rhodes implemented changes across the entire scope of a staff member’s experience from increasing the ease of applying to creating spaces for mid-shift breaks to providing opportunities training and professional advancement.
“No one wants to work for an organization where there’s no opportunity for true growth,” said Cateau. A.G. Rhodes held focus groups to truly understand an employee’s experience and what they felt they needed to feel satisfied with their work. Through these conversations, Cateau said leadership was poised to begin lifting up their staff and offer unique benefits.
Added benefits included mental health and pet insurance being included in healthcare packages, education and scholarship opportunities for employees and their families, internal development programs for frontline staff, and greater flexibility in shift scheduling.
“Out of the 20 Senior Living organizations I’ve come across in my lifetime, very few had a breakroom for its employees,” said Cateau . This realization led to providing an outdoor space for employees to take mid-shift breaks.
“Employees are tired, stressed, and ready to break. Having side conversations with them about what they’re going through will show you the reality of what they need.”
Cateau credited attentiveness to the needs and aspirations of his workers as the key to success and, ultimately the improvement of care quality for their older adult residents.
Bridging the gap between staffing shortages and industry demand, Lowe and Cateau shared that paying close attention to the needs and wellbeing of their workers not only led to improved employee satisfaction and productivity, but also less turnover, and ultimately, better-quality care for their residents.
As you reflect on your own organization, consider what resources, new partnerships, and safe, supportive spaces you can provide to your caregivers. Developing unique and creative programs can bring opportunities to overcoming staffing challenges in addition to establishing a culture of inclusivity and growth.