August 27, 2009
Assisted-living facilities face increasing demand for skilled, compassionate staff
Special to NWjobs
In 2011, the first baby boomers will turn 65. By the time 2050 comes around, nearly 21 million Americans will be 85 or older vs. 5.3 million in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And by 2040, the demand for long-term-care services is likely to at least double. All these numbers add up to increased demand for new assisted-living facilities and health care workers to staff them.
Mirabella Seattle, a continuing-care retirement community (CCRC) in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, opened last December. Catherine Goslin, corporate recruiter for Mirabella's parent company, Pacific Retirement Services, says the community fills a wide range of positions. "We have the continuum of care from independent all the way down to a full skilled nursing facility," she says.
A CCRC offers diverse choices for residents. Spry older adults seeking a senior community can stay at Mirabella as long as they live, whether or not they need medical care. "They are brought on board and they are there until the day they die. We don’t kick them out," Goslin says.
At Mirabella, residents are able to flow between four levels of care and support: independent living; assisted living in one- or two-bedroom apartments; short- and long-term skilled nursing care in an on-campus health care center with private suites; and special care for memory support in private suites.
Having a wide range of services is one of the keys to success for Redmond-based Aegis Living, a fast-growing senior-housing company. Among the 11 Aegis Living locations in the Puget Sound area are facilities for independent living, assisted living and memory care. High-demand jobs at Aegis include care managers, assisted-living directors and nurses.
Retaining skilled workers takes effort for assisted-living facilities, where turnover in the industry averages 120 percent. Aegis Living's founder, Dwayne Clark, author of "Help Wanted: Recruiting, Hiring and Retaining Exceptional Staff," says the turnover rate at Aegis is 23 percent to 45 percent.
"It's an employee-first philosophy over at Aegis," says Aegis spokeswoman Stacia Kirby. "If we hire people that are good and happy and feel enriched in the job that they're doing, (and feel) that they are being rewarded for what they do, then that directly translates into how they are going to care for our clients."
An Aegis facility in Santa Rosa, Calif., has the added perk of discounted apartments for its employees. "It provides them with housing that they can afford, which ultimately keeps them working for us longer, which is good for our people because the seniors get really attached to a lot of the caregivers. And so when there is a lot of turnover with that, it's very upsetting," Kirby says. "We totally recognize that and work to keep our employees as long as we possibly can. Doing that involves good benefits and perks."
Niceties beyond traditional benefits include free massages, discounts on haircuts or groceries and an annual meeting. "Instead of it being about our profits and what they can do to shave costs, we bring in phenomenal speakers -- this year was Deborah Norville and Deepak Chopra -- to enrich them in their lives," Kirby says. "If they're not happy and doing a good job, it just makes for a whole different experience."
Aegis Living also offers workplace training for employees in topics such as dementia, CPR, food handling and more.
Mirabella also tries to remain competitive. "We're a nonprofit organization, so we can't always compete with the hospitals, but we do our best at helping out with shift differentials or premium pay, doing what we can in that sense -- having our benefits be very rich -- medical, dental, vision," Goslin says.
Employees also get the best in medical facilities. "It's more a high-tech facility, so we're going to be offering the best possible for residents in regard to updated equipment," Goslin adds.
Health care workers can expect to get to know their patients at an assisted-living facility. "It's not as fast-paced as a hospital. The care that we give, I think it's more one on one," says Goslin.
"That's why nurses choose to come on board with us, because they can build those relationships," says Belia Dawson, director of recruiting at Aegis Living.
Rick Karnofski, the company's senior vice president of human resources, says the hard part is when those relationships have to come to an end, through a move or death of a client. "Death is part of what we deal with on a daily basis," he says.
Working at an assisted-living facility is "emotionally taxing on people. It takes a special person to be able to do that," Karnofski says. "It's not a job you can just get by on. This is a passion for them."
This article was originally published in August 2008.
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