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McKnight’s Women of Distinction Forum

Workforce Lessons from the Pandemic

With very little warning, long-term care professionals had to brace their facilities for a life-threatening virus. Nurse burnout and staff shortages were already challenging. And, for some, the additional strain of new restrictions was a breaking point. But, for others, it opened new opportunities for creative problem solving and collaboration.

For a recap of lessons learned during one of the most challenging times the long-term care industry has ever faced, we sat down with McKnight’s Senior Living Editor, Lois A. Bowers and four of McKnight’s Women of Distinction honorees: Lori Alford of Avanti Senior Living; Robin Bradley of American Health Partners; Kimberly Green-Yates from Diakonos Group; and Alicia Hartnett from The Lutheran Village at Miller’s Grant.

*Please note, the interview has been shortened for publication.

Have your organizations experienced increased burnout during the pandemic?

Kimberly Green-Yates: It’s not just been burnout. We’ve had staff leave the profession. It was draining not just for nurses but housekeepers, dietary staff and others. We were already dealing with staff shortages. What we learned was that if you love on the families of your employees, that really helps. We provide dinners, childcare and daycare for staff, transportation, school clothes, school supplies. It’s something not all providers are doing.

Lori Alford: COVID fatigue is very real. It’s not just the wellness teams. Most of us had to transition to kids learning at home and still show up to the community. We had workers explain that it’s just too much.

A lot of our teams felt out of control. I’m used to having answers and I didn’t. To help, we offered mental wellness training with our department heads across the country. Every week, they listened to a module about the brain and about being mindful and intentional. Everyone got together on a call and we talked about what we learned. By the end of it, they were thankful. They were sharing it with their families. It was great to see the benefits. 

What are some of the ways that COVID has shifted your operation and do you believe these will be permanent?

Lori Alford: We had to completely reinvent ourselves. COVID taught us and validated that our consumer is changing. We have to meet them where they are. We’ve learned how to connect with medical referrals to use our time more wisely. We probably wouldn’t have ever explored these tactics to connect and build relationships beyond what we were doing.

Robin Bradley: We embraced technology. We’ve filmed virtual tours and offered them on our websites. We’ve also increased communications with families [virtually]. Now those will be a part of our homes forever. We have a program where people can see their paycheck before payday and even give awards for perfect attendance. We make sure our employees are at work and we’re supporting them.

Alicia Hartnett: We’ve all gotten comfortable with being uncomfortable. Everybody has been willing to help. It will change our mindset and industry moving forward.

A lot of people are deciding to leave LTC? Have you seen non-clinical staff showing interest in nursing?

Lori Alford: The staff that fought through this with us every day are here because they really love this industry. They may not always know what they want to do next. It’s up to us to make sure they have what they need. We pay for college and even college for their kids if they go into LTC. It’s given us a renewed focus on all opportunities and not just clinical.

Alicia Hartnett: On a limited basis we’ve seen employees take advantage of emergency waivers and become feeding assistants, based on the needs in the community.

Do you think it’s time for nurses to get additional certifications?

Robin Bradley Yes! In skilled nursing we are taking patients from the hospital. Additional training builds confidence. When nurses are confident and able to treat patients, it makes a difference. We don’t require it, we offer it.

Alicia Hartnett – We’re always encouraging people to better themselves. It’s not just for the employee, it’s for the organization.

Are there ways that you as leaders have identified people that maybe didn’t see things in themselves? What role do you see in leaders as giving people a nudge who have the higher potential?

Kimberly Green-Yates We have started quarterly skills fairs. We hire hospital professionals to conduct training so we can have the best trained nurses. As we get our staff involved in online education and simulations, they will build their confidence. When that happens, we’ll see more people wanting to move up. We have the level of acuity we’ve never seen before.

Lori Alford – It’s our job to push everyone in our organizations: from making our sales folks better, to providing ongoing tools and training, to sharpening up the ED’s business skills. We bring all the department heads together for a day and a half of personal development. We break into groups, we vision set, we goal set and help them see maybe what they can’t see. It’s exciting to witness when they hit those goals.

How can LTC improve on worker recruitment and retention?

Kimberly Green-Yates – We have to change public perception from the latest negative news story, and we must recruit youth in order for our industry to survive. This is a different kind of worker. We have to adjust to them because they will not adjust to us. That means being creative and leveraging the news for all of the good stuff. Ask to sit in on the morning show or evening show and give them ideas. We want people to come because they understand they can change the world. If you can show them and get them interested, we can get people we’ve never seen before.

Alicia Hartnett – One of our greatest ways of marketing is word of mouth. Residents are going to come when they’ve heard wonderful things about the facility. G&As are really doing the brunt of it. They just want to be heard and supported. This is one of the biggest reasons we lose team members. If we can really make staff feel supported and heard and appreciated, they are willing to stay.

Lori Alford – We’ve got some opportunities to grow to make our industry cool and hip. It starts with nomenclature, technology. All these places that are succeeding here have really spoken to that next generation, through social media. Our industry has a lot of opportunity. We can level up. A lot of it is psychology. They want to work where there’s purpose, but we don’t always present ourselves like that.

Robin Bradley – To better market ourselves, we partnered with a group for creative brand messaging and use the outlets the rest of the world is using. We’re moving in the right direction but there’s still a long way to go.

Paycor celebrates all of the HR change-makers in healthcare and would like to especially congratulate McKnight’s Women of Distinction.

For more conversations with thought leaders on critical topics, check out our HR Center of Excellence. There you’ll find a list of live and on-demand webinars. Curious about how Paycor helps the healthcare industry?