Five Assisted Living and Senior Living Workforce Challenges for 2019

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Like many areas of the care continuum, assisted living and other senior residential care environments currently are under significant pressures, both from an operational and financial direction. The outlook for the immediate future for these providers is mixed--occupancy will remain stagnant and workforce challenges will grow more complicated, but changes in the U.S. economy and health care system could alleviate some pressures and create business opportunities” (Mullaney, 2019). Importantly, the workforce required for this sector is significant and sizeable, and addressing some of the problems inherent to it may help these providers get on a better footing. In two recent articles, leaders in this area of the care industry talked about their workforce challenges and some solutions to them.

Need to Focus on the Workforce

Cindy Baier, the CEO at industry giant Brookdale Senior Living, offered that organizations offering senior living need to “focus on what matters most--their people. We expect the labor market will continue to be quite competitive, so senior living companies will have to maintain a meaningful focus on attracting, engaging, developing, and retaining key talent” (Mullaney, 2019).

Recruiting Qualified Staff

According to Brenda Bacon, President and CEO of Brandywine Living, “Our challenge is and will be to attract and retain the best talent. The concurrent challenge is to absorb the growing cost of labor in the lowest unemployment environment in 49 years while maintaining and improving margins” (Mullaney, 2019). This organization, like others, must deal with competition for qualified workers as it becomes more expensive to hire and keep employees.

A future-oriented article in McKnight’s Senior Living also indicated that “workforce issues will continue to be a dominant challenge in the senior living industry in 2019” (Bowers, 2019). The industry leaders who were interviewed also shared that some other prominent challenges “involve affordable housing, Medicare Advantage, financing, and changes resulting from consumer demographics and preferences” (Bowers, 2019).

Retaining Caregivers

National Center for Assisted Living Executive Director Scott Tittle states that retention is a serious problem across the industry. According to Tittle, “We hear it from member providers consistently that finding and keeping quality caregivers is a challenge, especially as the economy improves and unemployment rates decrease” (Bowers, 2019).

Developing Caring Staff

James Balda, the President and CEO at Argentum, the senior living trade association, pinpoints his organization’s members’ need to focus on “finding and developing a professional and caring workforce as a top challenge” (Bowers, 2019). Not only are organizations in his space encountering a severe labor shortage, but they need to know how to turn workers into the caring workforce that residents require. According to Balda, the number of workers who will be required is daunting. He adds, “the industry will need to fill spots for 1.4 million workers between now and 2025, representing 281,000 [new] jobs and more than one million [replacement] jobs for industry workers who are retiring or exiting senior living” (Bowers, 2019).

Establishing Career Pathways

In addition to common workforce issues, the industry needs a stronger focus on developing a career pathway for employees, according to LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan (Bowers, 2019). Once employees have become part of the senior living industry, retaining them might be easier if they have an idea of where their careers might lead and of what training is needed to get them there.

For this sector of the care continuum, it is apparent that finances will continue to be a sore spot. President and CEO Brian Jurutka of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care offered that “the big challenge for senior living operators in 2018 was a squeeze on net operating income from both the revenue and expense side” (Bowers, 2019). He also shared that a stronger supply of new housing has “put downward pressure on occupancy in many markets, [while] …on the expense side, historic low unemployment rates helped drive higher labor costs, which make up about two-thirds of operating costs” (Bowers, 2019).

The experts above appear to agree that the workforce challenges in Senior and Assisted Living are not likely to end anytime soon. The trade-off for employee benefits resulting from labor shortage, job growth, and higher wages will likely have a counterpart in the impact on the customer base as industry organizations struggle to fill jobs and provide the quality care that residents expect and require.

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Bowers, Lois, “Workforce issues loom large as 2019 begins, leaders say,” McKnight’s Senior Living, January 2, 2019, Retrieved at https://www.mcknightsseniorliving.com/home/news/workforce-issues-loom-large-as-2019-begins-leaders-say/.

Mullaney, Tim, “Senior Living Executive Forecast: 2019 Business Trends, Challenges, Opportunities,” Senior Living News, January 1, 2019, Retrieved at https://seniorhousingnews.com/2019/01/01/senior-living-executive-forecast-2019-business-trends-challenges-opportunities/.

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