There has been a lot of chatter about the nursing shortage and other issues faced by the health care recruitment community, but the opportunities and challenges of hiring in the senior care space are a bit unique. We wanted to know what it takes to work in this niche space and how to successfully identify and recruit individuals who will excel in this unique environment.
So we sat down with Sheryl Messenger — HR director at Sedgebrook Retirement Community in the Lincolnshire, IL location — and LauraAshley Parrish — director of HR at The Cypress of Charlotte, a retirement community in Charlotte, NC — to discuss their recruitment insights.
Here’s what they shared:
What are some of your top challenges recruiting within the senior care space?
Sheryl: One thing that differentiates us from other medical and health care fields is that we deal with seniors and, even for those who are in the non-direct care area, we need to have people who are comfortable working with the elderly and also being in a position of having relationships with people who when they leave our community, it is a permanent leave. The issue of dealing with death and being able to handle and cope with that as well as getting the right staff to be able to care for those who are very fragile. You can be a CNA in a hospital or a tech who does tests. [But] when you’re in the senior care field, [there needs to be a lot of] relationship building.
That’s one of the differences between dealing with most recruiting and having people who can handle that kind of emotional stress and still be able to go on and do their jobs every day.
Do you have personality tests to determine the type of individuals who can handle that?
LauraAshley: Our population here [at The Cypress of Charlotte] is very high with dementia and Alzheimer’s; we don’t [deal] as much with employees being able to handle the hospice piece and the lives [like Sheryl and her team] — it’s more about being able to handle the daily interactions with members due to things they say or do or repetition that can become very frustrating when you’re dealing with it for eight hours a day.
We have a few things in place regarding how we recruit: We have two heavily-populated hospitals here in Charlotte and so we don’t have a lot of people we select who have that background because they haven’t dealt with [the population we have to tend to] in a hospital [setting]. They’re typically in a little more fast-paced [environment], whereas we’re a little slower-paced and it’s an 8-hour versus 12-hour shift. So we tend to stay away from individuals who only have a hospital background and are looking [instead] for somebody who’s a newer grad and hasn’t developed what we call “bad habits,” as well as individuals who have worked in a home-care setting, long-term care that’s a little more similar to us.
We have an extensive behavioral interview process that goes through those situations and we throw out scenarios [such as]: “How would you handle it if someone one minute asks you this question and five minutes later you’re getting the same question?”
And we, on purpose, ask them the same question multiple times throughout the interview to see if they are going to get frustrated with that and to see how they handle it. We have a good measuring tool right then to see if they’re getting frustrated or staying relaxed because what they deal with on a daily basis with the members is going to be far worse than me asking the same question three times in an interview.
What are the key types of positions you’re hiring for? Within senior care space, are there any roles on the patient care side where you’re seeing shortages or have a hard time hiring for?
Sheryl: We hire everything from housekeepers and cooks to managers, maintenance, finance people, [etc.]. In our area, we’re having difficulty hiring CNAs primarily because in our immediate area we have probably 12 new communities that are going up — primarily rental and assisted living and dementia — and that workload is much lighter in terms of the physical workload compared to skilled nursing, so we lose some of our people to the lighter workload; and also there just aren’t enough to go around.
Have you found any good places to source CNAs?
Sheryl: We partner with College of Lake county and their CNA training program – their classes do clinicals in our community so that we actually have a chance to see them work and can pick the cream of the crop as they graduate. We’d like to have people with a little more experience, but if we can get them on the front-end and train them the way we want them to be trained, that’s a good thing, too.
LauraAshley: We have the opposite problem here. We can find CNAs all day long but finding RNs is hard.
[We find that] the new graduates who come in don’t want to work here because they hear long-term care or assisted living or skilled nursing and think it’s not going to be a skill set they’re going to want to work with. But once they come on board and see what we do and can [understand] the relationship they build with the members — versus in a hospital setting where, best case scenario, you have them for 21 days — the ones who are in it for the right reasons really want to have that relationship with the patients and see that this is a better opportunity for them than one of our hospital systems.
We’re doing the same thing as Sheryl [in terms of] partnering with the colleges and educating [them] on what we do versus what they think we do.
Talking about employer branding, what are some ways you try to attract new grads?
LauraAshley: We’ve taken the approach of a country club — instead of focusing on the fact that we are skilled nursing or home care, we focus more on the hospitality piece, the atmosphere, the environment. We have a gorgeous property here, so we’ve really played that up and tied it into the environment they’ll be working in. We started doing that about six months ago and we’ve seen some success with that.
Can you think of anything you did five years ago that wouldn’t work now to attract the right candidates?
Sheryl: We used to be able to do recruiting on a more personal level — we used to be able to post flyers in local grocery stores and in church bulletins [etc.]. We had a lot of ways to get to a person on a more direct level — those things have disappeared.
Our best source of recruiting are our current employees. From time to time, we run a special on referral bonuses because we need their help. We have longevity in terms of our employees [and] if they love working here and they’re doing a good job, then they’re our best source of the next good employee. Most CNAs and most nurses have more than one job in long-term care, so they’re working somewhere else [too] and they’ll [tell people there that they] should come work at Sedgebrook.
LauraAshley: I agree with everything Cheryl just said and will also add too that social media [is a] huge factor for us. We’ve gone from where I used to see people would apply to a job based on job title, [but it] has now gone to catchphrases — what is catching their attention either in a picture or the first three words and they don’t care about job title anymore. So it’s a marketing creativity session to see what we can put out there that will grab [their attention and draw] them to our website and get them to apply.
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