Staffing challenges are easy to see, hard to fix

August 5, 2021
Few matters in senior living are as troubling as staffing. Any way you slice it, finding and keeping quality workers is not just a major challenge, it’s actually getting worse. Some very good commentary appears in a new position statement from AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. Boiled down, the organization’s diagnosis amounts to this: The field needs to do a better job of attracting good workers, and Those workers need to be better at what they do. Amen. To be sure, the actual statement is a bit more nuanced. But those are the key takeaways. And who in his or her right mind could oppose either recommendation? But here’s the thing: Knowing what needs to be done is often a far cry from being able to do it. It’s not exactly a secret that the field could do a better job of luring good candidates and making sure they do their jobs well. So why isn’t that happening? In a word, economics. Labor already is the highest cost of doing business in senior living. And in case you haven’t noticed, many operators are not exactly swimming in profits these days. At most communities, things are tight. And COVID-19 hardly helped. Many senior living communities can ill afford to set aside the additional funding required to improve recruitment, much less training. For the dynamic to change, we’ll need to see adjustments in the way operators operate. One adjustment could be a massive increase in prices charged to customers. Another would be for owners and company officers to take huge pay cuts. Anyone see either of those things playing out any time soon? Fortunately, there’s a third option. And it’s not nearly so farfetched: a game-changer that lowers operational costs by tamping down staffing demand. It could be robots, it could be new tech tools. Or perhaps a combination of both in concert with other labor-saving breakthroughs. The bottom line here is pretty clear: Operators who want to relieve the field’s staffing challenge may first need to find ways to do more with less. Who says irony is dead?