SNF staffing challenges: millennials may be the solution

Staff recruitment and retention are perennial challenges for skilled nursing facilities, and research shows the problem may be getting worse. Long Term Living recently featured the perspectives of a former healthcare administrator and a longtime nursing home resident on the staffing issue, shedding light on the importance of attracting a younger generation of talent. As more tech-savvy millennials enter the workforce in search of jobs with meaning, are SNFs doing all they can to connect with young professionals?

A Q&A with Peter Schuna, president of a consulting agency for long-term care and a former health system administrator, reveals several themes:

  • A young worker’s “blank canvas” may actually make them well-suited for this fast-changing industry.

“There’s probably some benefit for those who start today versus 15 years ago,” says Schuna. He explains that the industry changes so quickly that sticking to workflows purely out of habit just isn’t an effective tactic. In this light, millennial workers are probably starting their careers with a healthy attitude toward change.

  • Millennials’ embrace of technology can make them major assets.

Young workers have a strong grasp on “how technology can truly be used to enhance long-term care or post-acute care in general,” says Schuna. “I think they have a great ability to be able to figure out how technology can improve those interactions, those relationships and make the industry a lot better.”

The other side of this coin, of course, is that a lack of up-to-date technology can frustrate young workers. In the billing office, for example, ABILITY research has found that staffers find systems like DDE/FISS time-consuming and difficult to work with. For a generation that has grown up with sophisticated interfaces at their fingertips, DDE can be quite a shock.

  • Millennials want meaningful work, and even non-clinical jobs can provide that.

During his time leading facility staff, Schuna says he “was trying to find ways to connect with employees on a personal level so they understood the responsibility and the privilege of being a member of a skilled nursing facility.”

The importance of this connection is illustrated by Kathleen Mears, a longtime nursing home resident and a blogger for Long Term Living. Ms. Mears recently posted a piece highlighting how residents are impacted by staffing changes. The post includes an account of the office staff at her facility helping out at mealtimes during an understaffed period. She writes, “All the employees are like extended family and we appreciate their assistance,” and shares her hope “that a different perspective will enhance our lives.”

“If you think about it,” says Schuna, “we’re housing and caring for America’s history. It’s such an opportunity to learn from residents.”

For SNF leaders in the years ahead, this philosophy may be the key to attracting and retaining the next generation of staffers.