A September 2021 report published by Health Affairs,Food Insecurity Among Health Care Workers in the US, indicated that food insecurity rates were significantly higher among employees in residential care and nursing settings than for health care employees in other settings. Even with an almost 10% increase in wages during 2021, and funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, professional caregivers are often still paid below the living wage, contributing to instability and a lack of access to food, child care, health care, housing, transportation and other basic necessities. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has added significant stress and burnout to aging services professionals at all levels, contributing to turnover, exhaustion and mental health concerns.
To address this reality, some providers are offering wraparound supports to their staff. In this context, wraparound supports are services or offerings from an employer that aim to stabilize the personal lives of staff through unconventional benefits.
TakeGlencroft Center for Modern Aging, a Life Plan Community [GF1] in Glendale, AZ, as an example. Glencroft opens a food pantry to residents and staff twice monthly. Although the pantry began as a way to offer access to staples during the pandemic lockdown, the organization recognized the stabilizing impact of the pantry and has continued the service since pandemic guidance loosened in order to support those in need, including more than 75 staff who have accessed the free goods. According to aLeadingAge Member story in July 2022, “Glencroft has raised over $220,000 to support the pantry–including two $30,000 Community Development Block Grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, administered through the city of Glendale.”
Another example is theWISCAP program in Wisconsin, a Community Action Agency to support those in low-income households in all sectors. WISCAP works with organizations, including LeadingAge Wisconsin providers, to match caregivers to employers. Along with the professional support, training and mentoring provided through employers, WISCAP works directly with individuals to provide funding for things like food, childcare, transportation, violence prevention, legal resources and utilities – the wrap-around supports needed to help those in low-income sectors find stability.Community Action Agencies are available across the United States.
Where does an organization start? How can an employer practically put this type of support into action? One good place to start is to assess your larger community within the social determinants of health framework. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion have theHealthy People 2030 initiative, where the goal is to reduce health disparities and improve health and well-being for all via the social determinants of health. Healthy People 2030 sets data-driven national objectives to accomplish this work over the next decade.
Healthy People 2030 defines the social determinants of health as “the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks” and divides the determinants into five domains:
Education access and quality
Health care access and quality
Neighborhood and environment
Social and community context
With those determinants in mind, organizations might ask:
Do all staff have access to grocery stores with heathy foods?
Do all staff have access to affordable child care?
Do all staff have reliable transportation?
Are staff getting enough time off and enough sleep?
Do staff have support to quit smoking?
Do staff have tools for violence prevention at home?
Do we offer our staff:
An employee nutrition program?
A physical activity program?
An employee health promotion program?
In addition to knowing the community within which your organization is located, it is also important to talk to your staff. What do they need and what does support look like to them? We’ve heard LeadingAge providers offering financial literacy trainings, rideshare services, scholarship and tuition reimbursement, English language learning, counseling services, personal loans and more. As a sector providing housing and service, sometimes providers are even able to extend the services provided to older adults to their own staff, such as catering, event space, salon services or even massage therapy.
Beyond recruiting and retaining staff to offset the workforce crisis, offering the wraparound supports your staff need to find stability is a way to let staff know they are important, they matter, and they are valued.