Providers Cope With Workforce Challenges

Part of: Member Ideas and Inspirations: Coronavirus

LeadingAge member stories of workforce innovations during the coronavirus crisis.

The Challenge: Recruiting, training, and maintaining a quality workforce is exceptionally hard during the coronavirus crisis. Workers—especially frontline caregivers—are working long hours and maintaining stringent health safety processes. They are also struggling with personal issues—childcare, family demands, and concerns about their own health—that the crisis creates.

Employers are also managing employees who must be reassigned to new jobs for the duration of the crisis, and/or may be working at home for the first time. Employers must support employees and find ways to make their jobs—and often their personal challenges—easier.

Member Story #22: Staff Volunteers to Fill in as Direct Care Workers During the Pandemic
Member Story #21: Provider Solves the Multiple-Job Problem Among Staff, Boosts Communication for Residents
Member Story #20: Provider Trains Supplemental Staff, Provides Essentials for Staff and Residents
Member Story #19: Honoring Caregivers, Advocating with Congressman, and Helping Another Provider in Need
Member Story #18: A Many-Faceted Program to Boost Staff Spirits
Member Story #17: Dozens of Staff Live on Provider’s Campus to Protect Residents - UPDATED
Member Story #16: Supporting Staff With Rally & Resident-Donated Emergency Funds
Member Story #15: Provider Celebrates National Nurses Day With Parade
Member Story #14: Residents Line the Roads to Thanks Staff
Member Story #13: Provider Hiring Displaced Workers
Member Story #12: Staff and Residents Adopt All-Hands-On-Deck Approach
Member Story #11: Creating a Warrior Spirit While Preparing for COVID-19 Cases
Member Story #10: Staff Rises to Challenges of the Crisis
Member Story #9: Financial Incentives and Flexibility to Support Staff
Member Story #8: New Part-Time Position Eases Burdens on Direct Caregivers
Member Story #7: Appreciation Pay to Boost Staff Income, Plus Additional Sick Time
Member Story #6: Staff Becoming Leaders During Crisis
Member Story #5: Employee-Support Strategies: Hours, Food, PTO and More
Member Story #4: Recruiting Displaced Workers
Member Story #3: Reassigning Idled Staff to Crisis Line
Member Story #2: Creating New Position to Reduce Burdens on Frontline Staff
Member Story #1: Bonuses Given to All Full-Time and Part-Time Workers


Member Story #22: Staff Volunteers to Fill in as Direct Care Workers During the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the work lives of countless people in our field. Providers have had to alter job descriptions and create new ones, and many workers found themselves taking on duties they never expected.

At United Methodist Retirement Communities (UMRC), Chelsea, MI, a group of employees found their jobs changed dramatically in May.

A blog post, “Not All Heroes Wear Capes,” tells the story of 4 women who volunteered to work as caregivers for 3 weeks at UMRC’s Kresge Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center. Thanks to CMS’ March 31 temporary waiver of CNA training requirements, UMRC was able to quickly train them for their new duties.

Lisa French, director of communications and annual giving at the UMRC Foundation, wrote the post about how the 4 adapted to a vastly different work experience.

Only one of them, Nicole Adams, a sales advisor, had clinical experience, and had in fact begun her career as a CNA. Karen Owen, a director of donor relations, had considered a clinical career at one time, is married to an essential health care worker, and has 3 young children at home, so the decision to make the move was difficult. Libby Brightman of the HR staff never expected to do direct care work, but wanted to do her part. And Josie Pezzullo, a life enrichment coordinator, felt she was well-suited to make the switch since she already knew the residents so well.

The experience left all 4 with an even greater appreciation for the work done by frontline caregivers, and new insights into the work of serving older adults.

For much more detail on their experiences and lessons learned, read the original post at the UMRC website.

Member Story #21: Provider Solves the Multiple-Job Problem Among Staff, Boosts Communication for Residents

Westminster Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Beach, VA, has had good success keeping the coronavirus out of the community so far. One element in doing so is a focus on limiting human traffic.

Ben Unkle, president & CEO, says that people working in multiple “public-facing jobs” for different employers have potential to bring the virus from one community to another. The solution was to give those staff incentive to work only for Westminster Canterbury.

“We said you have to tell us if you have another job that deals with the public, and stop,” says Unkle. The idea, he says, is to “make them whole” by giving these employees enough hours, including overtime hours if necessary, to replace the pay they were receiving elsewhere. In fact, if they cross the overtime threshold, they might need fewer extra hours to make up the lost wages elsewhere.

Unkle says the program applies to about 60 people: “Most are frontline workers,” he says. “These people need 2 jobs to make ends meet despite our move to higher voluntary wages.”

Unkle says there is no lack of work to be done; staff can be reassigned to dining services, driving, security, administrative positions, and more.

“These are all hours we would have to have anyway,” says Unkle, “so the 50% overtime premium is the cost.”

Another way of minimizing traffic is to encourage residents to take advantage of telehealth for their medical appointments. An on-campus telehealth room, staffed by the organization’s nurses, makes it easy for residents to avoid going out for in-person appointments. “We have nurses […] and a lot of diagnostic equipment,” says Unkle. “We can be your doctor’s office right here.” Telehealth apps included in the organization’s proprietary Birdsong tablets make it possible.

Use of the Birdsong platform has exploded since the coronavirus crisis began. The result is an even greater level of communication between residents, family, and friends, and an expansion of the platform worldwide.

Birdsong is proprietary software installed on Android tablets. Users get access to educational and entertainment apps, and can easily connect with family and caregivers via video chat and messaging. It includes the major telehealth applications, and can be customized to include any other Android-based capability.

COVID-19 inspired an innovation that has improved the platform’s reach dramatically.

“As we were under strict campus quarantine, we took our dedicated lockdown tablet and offered it as a web app too, and we then saw an explosion of international usage from 13 countries, and up to 40-something states,” says Unkle. “For those with cognitive impairment, a locked-down tablet is still best, but a web app was the way to explosive growth.” The web app is accessible here (registration required, $15 monthly).

“The number one way it has helped is reducing anger and fear from families,” says Unkle. “Particularly those who are new admits from some health event, and whose family desperately wants to comfort them.”

Member Story #20: Provider Trains Supplemental Staff, Provides Essentials for Staff and Residents

Ecumen, Shoreview, MN, as part of its preparedness plan, has trained 200 non-clinical employees as backups for frontline workers, should additional support be needed, or should illness and quarantines be necessary because of the coronavirus.

President and CEO Shelley Kendrick says the organization—which fortunately has not had difficult staffing issues so far—trained a variety of workers in administrative, food service, maintenance and other jobs to help with some limited clinical tasks if needed. “Checking vital signs is an example of a support activity they are prepared to do,” she adds.

Another way of protecting staff and residents is reducing their need to shop. Three communities have created no-cost “essentials kits” for staff and residents. They include groceries and household items such as hand sanitizer, paper products, rice, bread, and more. Foundation grants and individual donors have enabled the program, and Ecumen is working to expand it.

Member Story #19: Honoring Caregivers, Advocating with Congressman, and Helping Another Provider in Need

When we first came across this story from St. Paul Elder Services, Kaukauna, WI, it was really 2 compelling tales: one about the character and courage of a frontline caregiver, and another about how a LeadingAge member can advocate for our field, one-on-one, with elected officials.

When we followed up with St. Paul President and CEO Sondra Norder after the event described, we discovered a last-minute twist that gave this tale a third compelling face—of a provider organization that faces unexpected challenges generously and creatively.

The following (lightly edited) was written by Norder:

“On Monday, June 15, we were contacted by the office of our U.S. representative, Mike Gallagher. The congressman wanted to visit St. Paul Elder Services (SPES) to present us with a service award that recognizes ‘unsung heroes’ in northeast Wisconsin. He wanted to recognize someone in long-term care because of the frontline battle we have been doing with COVID-19.

“While I accepted the recognition for someone here, I made clear to the congressman that I did not want to be the individual to accept the award. In giving thought to who we should have accept this award, several opportunities came to mind that played into who we selected.

“Sheila Olinger is a CNA at St. Paul Home. She has been a CNA for 12 years and has worked at SPES for a year and a half.

“June 18 was the beginning of national CNA Appreciation Week, and CNAs are the lifeblood of long-term care in normal times; they are the frontline defenders and infection control experts during emergency pandemic operations.

“June 19 also happened to be “The Longest Day,” as recognized by the Alzheimer’s Association: The day with the most light (the day before the summer solstice) is the day we fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease. In terms of dementia’s relationship to COVID-19, during this pandemic, studies have shown that nursing home residents living with dementia are 1.7 times more likely to die from COVID-19 if they acquire the infection than those who do not live with dementia. Residents living with dementia make up 52% of nursing home residents nationwide, but account for 72% of the deaths that have occurred in nursing homes. Protection of our residents living with dementia is just as critical during this pandemic as protection of those living with pulmonary disease or compromised immune systems.

“Sheila is a caregiver in one of the memory care neighborhoods in our nursing home, and her dementia-capable care has been praised regularly by families. Here are some quotes from letters and cards of thanks that mention Sheila:

  • I observed Sheila speaking to another resident as if she were talking to her mother. She was just so kind and gentle. I just stopped and watched her and said Wow. I was so glad she was caring for my mom. She had no idea I was listening to her, so it was all from her heart.
  • She is so calming to be around and my mom trusts her very much.

“Sheila is also a black woman. Nationally, aging services is built on the backs of women and people of color. Although black Americans make up just over 12% of the population, 26% of long-term care workers nationwide are black. (52% of LTC workers are white, 13% are Hispanic, and 8% are Asian/native American/other). At SPES, approximately 9% of our staff are non-white. These statistics that show how people of color disproportionately serve our nation’s elders have often been overlooked, but at a time like now, it is really important to highlight their significant contributions to the health care delivery system in this country.

“Finally, it was fitting that the day of the award was also Juneteenth, the celebration of the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States.

“So, Sheila accepted the award on behalf of CNAs, long-term care workers of color, and dementia-capable caregivers throughout northeast Wisconsin. Please join me in congratulating her and thanking her for representing all of you as unsung heroes!

“As a matter of policy (as opposed to politics), we had a significant opportunity with this visit by a sitting U.S. congressman, as we are his constituents, and the challenges we have faced in LTC—even before COVID-19—have been significant. The most significant are the chronic underfunding and burdensome regulation we have faced. I took the opportunity to make clear to the congressman that even our state regulators are opposed to the most recent survey enforcement memo that came out of CMS, and to discuss our ongoing funding needs. I also shared information about Act for Older Adults, LeadingAge’s new national campaign that calls on Congress to not walk away from older adults, and lays out 5 specific asks regarding PPE, testing, consideration of the needs of older adults as the nation re-opens, specific/ongoing funding for long-term care and supports, and recognition of LTC workers through hero pay and paid sick leave.

“While I didn’t want this event to be ‘political,’ I welcomed and encouraged staff to bring signs with supportive messaging on them, such as ‘CNAs are Heroes in Scrubs,’ or ‘Bless our CNAs’ or anything else fun, impactful, or important they would want the congressman to see and understand.”

When LeadingAge spoke to Norder, she added a dramatic postscript to the story. The night before the scheduled congressman’s visit, June 18, Oakridge Gardens Rehabilitation and Memory Center in Manasha, WI, had a major fire and had to evacuate 51 residents. St. Paul admitted 28 of them.

Local news accounts of the fire appeared here, here, and here.

To accommodate the new residents, Norder says, the state allowed St. Paul to go over its licensed bed capacity.

“We used some rooms that had been semiprivate, and had the beds [for them] in storage,” she adds. “We put an emergency call out to staff, and 75 off-duty staff came in to help!”

Because of the emergency, says Norder, “We weren’t able to give Sheila the amount of fanfare we intended.” The congressman came, and the visit went well, Norder says. The day that LeadingAge spoke to Norder, she was preparing for a follow-up meeting with Gallagher’s health policy advisor.

See Gallagher’s Facebook page for more about the visit and awarding of the service award.

Member Story #18: A Many-Faceted Program to Boost Staff Spirits

The staff at St. Andrew’s at New Florence, New Florence, MO, put together a video featuring residents and staff coping with the pandemic, accompanied by Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

Viewers will enjoy the video’s creative portrayal of a coronavirus being kept out of the building. (The community has had no COVID-19-positive residents.)

According to Mary Alice Ryan, president/CEO of the St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors System, St. Louis, MO, the New Florence community is one of 16 communities that have so far kept the coronavirus out. Four other St. Andrew’s communities have accounted for a total of 19 COVID-19-positive cases among residents and staff.

“Our belief is you can’t do anything without good staff,” says Ryan. “It’s easy for someone to decide not to put themselves through this.”

The organization has instituted appreciation bonuses for staff, and done a number of things to let employees know that they are valued and supported.

All staff received t-shirts that say, “We Stand and Fight Against COVID-19.” Signage outside St. Andrew’s communities thank staff, and employees have been given signs to put up at their own homes, saying “I Work With HEROES: St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors System.”

Ryan stands outside various communities at shift changes, holding a sign thanking staff. She also recruited a group of friends to sew cloth facemasks. There are frequent staff pizza parties and other events to build morale and teamwork. Walmart gift cards, donated lunches, and gift bags are distributed.

In light of current events, Ryan sent a personal letter to all employees talking about racism. “We have to stand together and treat each other right,” she says. “St. Andrews has to stand behind people being discriminated against. I gave them my email and invited their thoughts and concerns. One employee says her daughter is going to research best practices for companies on how they deal with racism/bigotry to find out more about what we should be doing at St. Andrews.”

Member Story #17: Dozens of Staff Live on Provider’s Campus to Protect Residents - UPDATED

Park Springs, Stone Mountain, GA, a life plan community and LeadingAge Georgia member, is protecting residents (which the organization calls “members”) by limiting human traffic to the bare minimum. That goal is advanced by the fact that more than 60 employees have volunteered to live on campus during the pandemic.

“Limiting human traffic was the single most important thing we could do,” says Donna Moore, COO. “We got 60 volunteers, and now we’re up to 75. Some of us live in tents (set up indoors) on air mattresses; some [live] in model homes or guest suites, which we use for sales prospects, which are available because we’re closed to sales.”

The hardest part for the live-in staff, says Moore, is what they have given up in their personal lives. “With the type of person attracted to our business, I wasn’t surprised I got so many people,” she says.

Live-in staff are paid for 40 hours per week, plus overtime and a weekly stipend for living on campus.

As of May 14, Park Springs had one COVID-positive resident in short-term rehab after returning from hospital. In April, another resident had tested positive upon returning to short-term rehab from hospital and has since recovered. All residents returning from hospitals are isolated and tested. One resident in independent living tested positive in her final days after hospice care, and family were allowed to visit; however, doctors have stated that COVID-19 had no bearing on her death. In March, 4 employees tested positive, but have recovered and returned to work. Contact tracing, says Moore, found no other infections.

Staff living on-site include people from many departments—food and beverage, plant operations, security, sanitation, CNAs, administrative staff, and nurses. Within the large campus (61 acres), people are also isolating by building.

“We practice relationship-based care,” says Moore, “and living on campus has allowed us to fulfill that mission. We’re able to love on our members, hold hands, have the sense of family. In addition to keeping COVID out, the unintended consequence is how we’ve gotten to know our members. It’s fascinating to watch!”

UPDATE, JUNE 16, 2020:

After 75 days of living on campus to ensure the safety and well-being of their members through Georgia’s sheltering-in-place order, 75 Park Springs employees went home the weekend of June 13-14.

“We have an extremely dedicated employee body and I am so honored to work with people who are committed to loving and serving our members in such a selfless way,” says COO Donna Moore. “Over the last 75 days, these 75 heroes have been our mission in action.”

Park Springs is entering phase 2 of its response to the novel coronavirus, which includes precautions such as testing and screening all staff, limiting and intensely screening visitors, continuing to provide meal delivery services, doubling-up on existing infection control protocols, practicing social distancing, and use of PPE. Some services which had been temporarily suspended, such as dining room service and limited in-person programming, will be available, with heightened safety protocols.

Member Story #16: Supporting Staff With Rally & Resident-Donated Emergency Funds

Senior management, team leaders, and residents of Cypress Cove, Ft. Myers, FL, held a 2-day sign-waving rally near the life plan community’s main entrance to express their support and appreciation for employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

Residents also joined in. Signs, with messages like “Thank You” or “Our Heroes” were greeted enthusiastically by employees coming and going. See a video of the event.

Residents of Cypress Cove have also raised about $145,000 for the organization’s employee disaster fund.

Residents began contributing when reports of employee economic hardships began to surface. Employee families have been hit with unemployment, closed schools and daycare centers, food insecurity, and mounting bills.

Childcare issues were resolved for most employees when Cypress Cove contracted with the nearby Heights Center and Glad Kids to care for employee children aged from 6 weeks to 14 years. More than 300 staff members in need received thank you gifts in the form of tax-free grants.

“It’s a community that seems to continually rise to the occasion in caring and philanthropic ways,” says Cypress Cove Executive Director Tim Ficker. “We are truly amazed and impressed by the response. It is obvious that they (residents) really care about the well-being of our staff.”

Member Story #15: Provider Celebrates National Nurses Day With Parade

When May 6—National Nurses Day—came around, St. Paul's Senior Services, San Diego, CA, organized recognition parades at 6 different sites. The whole staff pitched in to help celebrate the nursing team. See a video of the parade by Communications Specialist Lauren McCormick to enjoy the celebration.

Member Story #14: Residents Line the Roads to Thanks Staff

At Carol Woods Retirement Community, Chapel Hill, NC, residents lined the roads, cheered, and banged pans for Carol Woods’ staff as they drove in for the morning, and again in the afternoon. See video of the events, and photos, on the Carol Woods Facebook page.

Member Story #13: Provider Hiring Displaced Workers

Christian Horizons, which operates communities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri, is seeking displaced workers to help support frontline caregivers and to keep residents engaged.

Jenelle Bertolino-Ishmael, chief strategy officer says the organization has created a “helping hands” position: a non-certified worker who can be brought through a fast-tracked onboarding process, and trained using Relias. The workers perform non-nursing activities such as making beds, light housekeeping, labeling, answering call lights for simple tasks, passing trays from the dining room, or participating in activities to keep isolated residents engaged.

“We’re looking for people skills and cooperativeness,” says Bertolino-Ishmael. “We’ve hired 31 of them across the organization; some communities have hired up to 11 [people].”

Christian Horizons reached out to the hotel industry, small businesses, and churches to recruit employees.

Bertolino-Ishmael says the organization is also working to help staff with childcare. Indiana, she says, has a good alternative childcare system. Elsewhere, staff is exchanging shifts to accommodate children’s needs, and associates themselves are volunteering to care for children. Some communities work with local churches to open up childcare opportunities.

Supplies of PPE and other essentials are doing well enough. The organization manages its supply chain centrally, allowing it to shift inventory to the communities that need it the most from a central location in Illinois.

Member Story #12: Staff and Residents Adopt All-Hands-On-Deck Approach

Presbyterian Villages of Michigan (PVM) has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to dealing with the pandemic.

A team called “PVM Strong” is a group of employees who are volunteering to put in extra hours without pay. The team members will assist with various tasks like cleaning, passing out trays, and other non-clinical duties.

According to Lynn Alexander, PVM’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, it’s the embodiment of a line that CEO Roger Myers uses about “being calm and strong.”

The technology department at PVM has access to a 3-D printer, and is using it to produce 150 face shields a day.

A group of residents has volunteered to do wellness calls to other residents throughout the system. Alexander says, “Even with simple check-in calls, just hearing from someone makes a difference. That’s real resident engagement.” She notes that calls to skilled nursing residents will probably be left at the local level with staff.

Alexander says PVM has had tremendous support from the community and from within. CFO Brian Carnaghi donated money to set up a fund for employees, who are receiving appreciation pay. Board members, other managers, and outside donors have also made donations.

Member Story #11: Creating a Warrior Spirit While Preparing for COVID-19 Cases

Along with all the new obstacles, shortages, and additional work caused by the coronavirus crisis, the leaders of United Church Homes, based in Marion, OH, knew that plain old fear would become one of their greatest foes.

“Like all other organizations, we were getting daily briefings from governors and CMS, and wrapping our minds around how to create isolation units,” says Terry Spitznagel, senior vice president and chief growth officer. “We were getting a good understanding of how to set them up, and our PPE needs. But what I was sensing was that the mental health needs around this were increasing. You could just feel the anxiety of staff.”

Wanting to “normalize” the experience of having a COVID-positive resident, United Church Homes decided to create COVID-19 drills to prepare staff in all 14 UCH health care units. With a mock COVID patient, caregivers, housekeeping staff, dietary staff, and managers practice their protocols—in full PPE—doing it multiple times on every shift. (Some of the “PPE” used during practice is ersatz, in order to preserve the real thing.)

“The biggest benefit is that it has helped ease the anxiety of staff 100 times over,” Spitznagel says. “They talk it through with each other, and after doing it 5 times they feel better. The fear of this virus is on us 100% of the time, so we have to mentally prepare ourselves for this. It makes sure we’re prepared, but it also helps the staff know that they can and will do this all together, and we’re ready.”

The organization’s daily video conference calls include time for caregivers to ask questions and share their best ideas with each other.

The COVID drills are just one part of a larger movement among staff to look at themselves as “UCH Warriors.”

“We’ve decided we’re warriors and we’re preparing for an enemy that’s coming,” Spitznagel says. “We started recognizing that staff was getting motivated by this. As the employer, we wanted to make sure staff knows we have their back.”

It became an organic campaign. “Warrior Pay,” an extra $2 per hour, has been instituted until June 30. Meals and snacks are provided for staff. “Dance-off” competitions are building team morale. Employees are posting pictures of team members flexing their muscles (visit the UCH Facebook page for great photos). Hashtags, like #UCHFlex and #UCHWarriors, have been created.

“This has shifted the narrative,” Spitznagel says. “Now it is, ‘We are warriors and we are going to take this on. We are on the front lines and we’ll fight it and we’ll beat it.’”

Member Story #10: Staff Rises to Challenges of the Crisis

Amy Schectman, president and CEO of 2Life Communities, Brighton, MA, described a few examples of how the organization’s employees stepped up to meet challenges caused by the coronavirus crisis. Her thoughts were included in a message to stakeholders:

“We are doing everything in our power to help keep our precious elders safe in our communities. Not surprisingly, our staff has risen in ways that parallel the miracles of the story:

“When there was a delay in procuring face masks to protect our on-site staff, colleagues began sewing homemade ones and got their friends, spouses, and in-laws to do the same—and we immediately had enough supply until our first order arrived.

“When we realized that going to the supermarket was risking bringing in more virus, our kitchen team worked extra hours including weekends to produce over 5,000 healthy meals so we could offer them to all residents—and we are replenishing the stock so quickly that we are offering now 7 meals/week to every resident at no cost to them—we were only able to do this because of the generosity of our supporters.

“When our desire to call every resident with some frequency ran into some challenges with the languages people speak, an email went out to all staff asking for additional volunteers speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Albanian, and Haitian-Creole. It literally took MINUTES for typically non-resident-facing staff to offer their services and fill all the gaps.”

Member Story #9: Financial Incentives and Flexibility to Support Staff

The New Jewish Home in New York City is doing a variety of things to try to keep staffing levels up and support employees.

Audrey Wathen, senior vice president, human resources, says new financial incentives are structured to focus specifically on uncovered shifts. By offering flat bonuses, the organization is incentivizing workers to take uncovered shifts (in addition to their own schedules). The incentives are offered to RNs, LPNs, and CNAs.

“We’re putting everything in the hopper to see what works,” says Wathen, who says the system went into effect March 26.

Another new creation is called “staffing central,” where one team manages a database of employees who are able to be reassigned to different tasks: staff from the closed adult day centers; CNAs and home health aides from the organization’s Geriatric Career Development program; staff from external sources, and others. The organization is also bringing in agency staff—and paying a premium for them.

Wathen says about 110 staff from HR, finance, IT, clerical, and other functions are working from home, however, if needed will be called back to work to help in clinical settings.

The organization is also providing some meals to staff onsite because of the generosity of outside donors.

Wathen says the organization is providing N95 facemasks, to keep staff at ease. The manager of supplies updates leaders daily on supply inventories and burn rate.

“The biggest thing we’re managing is fear,” Wathen says. “That’s why it’s good that there are many resources for staff managing their jobs and their families. We created our own resource guide for staff. New York City, The Department of Health, and other entities have been great about providing information as well.”

Member Story #8: New Part-Time Position Eases Burdens on Direct Caregivers

Bethany Home Association, Lindsborg, KS, has eased the burden on direct care workers by creating a new position called “resident care assistant.” According to CEO Kris Erickson, the job description was created in 2019 as a way to deal with shortages of direct care workers.

“Our team started discussing options, and the idea of hiring people not licensed or certified,” says Erickson.

Four resident care assistants were hired last year, and 5 more came on board in January. Bethany Home Association now employs 20 of them. Erickson says that 16 of the current ones have been hired since the coronavirus crisis began.

Most of the resident care assistants are college students, now idled by school closures.

“They now have a source of income,” Erickson says, and notes that some now look to health care as a career option. “Four of our first 5 have applied to become nurse aides,” he adds.

They work 8 a.m.-8 p.m., on 4-hour shifts, with varying duties. Tasks include working at the reception desk, logging screenings and passing out PPEs; making beds; tidying rooms; delivering trays; distributing water, towels, and washcloths; answering call lights and bringing in certified staff if necessary; and sanitizing by wiping down handrails, keypads, and more.

“We’ve not seen more than 1-2 licensed certified staff take extra time off,” says Erickson, “but now we have more than enough to help.”

The organization recruited via Facebook, and Erickson says it was surprisingly easy. “We’ve had more applications than we can use now,” he says.

The organization has also instituted a “Hero Bonus” program that gives staff an extra $1 per hour during the COVID crisis.

Bethany has boosted its video conferencing capabilities to enable communication with families. And, he says, “our big push was to focus on the positive and show what we’re doing in house to keep spirits up […] to put up social media posts about the positivity occurring, so people aren’t overwhelmed. We’re prepared, we’re ready, and making the best of it.”

Member Story #7: Appreciation Pay to Boost Staff Income, Plus Additional Sick Time

Emerald Communities, Redmond, WA, is giving a $5-per-hour appreciation pay bonus to the majority of the 400-plus employees at its 2 communities, Emerald Heights and Heron’s Key, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The additional pay represents an increase of 10-30% for most employees.

All employees will also receive an additional 80 hours of sick time if they receive a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 or need to be quarantined at home. This benefit will allow employees to stay at home during recovery without using their available PTO balance. The new benefits are retroactive to March 8, 2020, and will be in effect indefinitely.

Lisa Hardy, Emerald Communities president/CEO, says the organization’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund was created specifically for employee support.

Member Story #6: Staff Becoming Leaders During Crisis

Parker, based in Piscataway, NJ, is seeing a common phenomenon during these difficult times: staff becoming leaders in the midst of crisis.

Parker President and CEO Roberto Muñiz, in his March 31 blog post titled “Shining Moments During These Difficult Times,” says, “We have seen leaders and more importantly the front-line staff rise up in the midst of all the work we are doing to keep our residents and employees safe. It’s not surprising to me that even the quietest caregivers have stepped up to take the helm and lead others. Everyone on our team is doing their part, and it’s really a joy to see.”

Muñiz gave several examples:

“Without being able to socially interact with friends, venture out, or have visitors, the days could get lonely. Yet our staff has brought moments of meaning to a whole new level. Our horticulturist, Lee, recently provided a session from the ground courtyard of our assisted living while residents watched from their balconies. One of our Landing Lane nursing residents celebrated their 60th anniversary over Skype with their spouse. Some of our recreation staff created a happiness cart which delivers assorted beverages, music, dancing, bubbles, spontaneity, and some good old-fashioned silliness to our residents at their doorstep. Rehab and personal exercise therapies are being given in resident rooms and suites.”

Read the entire post here.

Member Story #5: Employee-Support Strategies--Hours, Food, PTO and More

The Jewish Home Family, based in Rockleigh, NJ, is supporting staff and boosting morale with a variety of practices:

  • Accessing extra staple foods from its suppliers and offering them at cost to staff, to reduce their need to go into stores. Staples like milk, eggs, rice, toilet paper, and more are offered.
  • A program for employee engagement each week, including theme days and special treats.
  • A PTO bank with donated hours from other staff.
  • Regular reassurance and thanks from management.
  • Offering extra hours, and additional training to be able to work extra time in other capacities.
  • Working with staff to offer employment to family members.
  • Telehealth services through insurance.

Member Story #4: Recruiting Displaced Workers

Garvey Manor, a skilled nursing, personal care, and independent living provider in Hollidaysburg, PA, is recruiting displaced workers—such as people idled or laid off during the coronavirus pandemic.

A notice on the Facebook page says: “Displaced workers, college students, are you looking for a place to work where you can make a difference in the lives of others. Call our Human Resources Department today. We have various positions available.”

On the Garvey Manor website, a notice says, “DISPLACED WORKERS: If your business or school has closed and you are looking for work, we have various positions available. Please contact Human Resources for more details.”

According to Director of Human Resources Joann Kasun, the organization has also been in contact with a local career and technology center whose practical nursing and health occupations students have done clinical rotations within our building.

“These individuals have already been oriented to the [community] and could be hired and put into positions relatively quickly,” Kasun says.

Member Story #3: Reassigning Idled Staff to Crisis Line

Institute on Aging is a San Francisco-based organization that offers a variety of home care and case management services, adult day programs, a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), and a free community referral service.

Another service, The Friendship Line, is the only accredited crisis line in the country for people aged 60 years and older, and adults living with disabilities. It also makes on-going outreach calls to lonely older adults.

The coronavirus crisis has brought 2 important changes to the Friendship Line.

First, call volume is up, meaning that callers are spending more time on hold than usual.

“During high volume periods, which we’re trying to remedy, folks are waiting longer than they normally would,” says Preston Burnes, vice president of strategic partnerships. “We usually see drop-offs because they call back later, but now we’re seeing them hang on 10 or more minutes. Folks are very lonely and in need of socialization.”

Secondly, with the call center shut down, operators must work at home. About half of them are volunteers, who do not all have the technology required to work remotely.

Institute on Aging is planning to invest in more people and a systems expansion to handle the Line’s demands.

“We typically have a few hundred thousand calls in a year,” Burnes says. “I’m not sure we’re seeing a significant increase in volume [yet], but it has trended up, the urgency and need is going up, and we anticipate hitting a hockey stick soon.”

He says the roster of operators will be boosted to about 20, with a greater percentage of them paid staff. The Friendship Line also requires a robust 20-30 hour training program over several weeks; operators are trained to deal with escalations, potential suicides, and methodologies for social conversations. Because of the pressing nature of the crisis, training time will need to be cut, so the organization is looking to internal staff that may have been idled from their regular jobs by the crisis, but who have strong one-on-one people skills. They will probably include adult day staff, PACE center staff, and social workers.

Takeaway: “One thing we know will happen, demand-wise,” says Burnes, “is that many of our own programs are not regularly able to engage with their clients anymore. We often do a ‘call-out’ model instead of waiting for [people] to call in. Many of these folks will develop some social isolation.

“You can’t replace the impact of a face-to-face intervention, but we can provide some socialization and a check-in in on how folks are doing.”

Member Story #2: Creating New Position to Reduce Burdens on Frontline Staff

At Gurwin Jewish Family of Healthcare Services, Commack, NY, a large skilled nursing provider, every employee who comes into the building must be screened with a digital, no-contact thermometer. This has required diverting some staff. Some employees have been available for diversion from the Gurwin adult day programs, which are closed.

The organization has also created a new job description it calls “a resident care coordinator.” These employees would supplement the work of CNAs—duties such as making beds, delivering trays, and answering phones. Outreach so far has generated responses from people interested. Gurwin will screen applicants first by phone to help expedite hiring.

Member Story #1: Bonuses Given to All Full-Time and Part-Time Workers

St. Ann’s Community, Rochester, NY, has announced that it will give approximately $400,000 in bonuses to 875 employees. Workers are helping to provide around-the-clock care to residents and patients.

Appreciation bonuses will be paid on March 27, to all full-time and part-time workers. Full-time workers will receive $500 and part-time workers will receive $250. Senior managers are excluded from the bonus.

In addition to the bonuses, smaller measures are also being implemented to show support for staff members. St. Ann’s is providing complimentary food to all workers while on duty, and has also relaxed the uniform and dress code for all employees.

Takeaway: “Our team members are balancing work with the support and care they need to provide to their own families, especially during this anxious and difficult time for all of us,” says President and CEO Michael McRae. “They are incredible, and we are completely in awe of their willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty.”

Visit our COVID-19 resources section for more resources.

LeadingAge wants to hear from you! Tell us stories of how your organization is adapting and innovating to manage with the coronavirus crisis. We are looking for stories about: staff management, worker welfare, and recruitment; childcare; care and services for residents and clients; personal protective equipment (PPE); communication; food services; advocacy; resident engagement; and more.

Contact Gene Mitchell at or 202-508-9424.