Brenham Banner: Long-term care facilities aiming to correct staffing shortages

By Alison Bryce

From COVID-19 to severe staffing shortages, places like long-term care facilities have had to adapt just to keep running. Now, as staffing shortages continue to strike facilities hard, some are striving to change the path.

The Texas Health Care Association (THCA) has announced a proposed plan to address staffing shortages in the long-term care profession, which have been at critical shortage levels and were exacerbated by the pandemic. The plan would draw on funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds allocated to Texas.

In a recent survey of THCA members, 70% of long-term care facilities cited that they are unable to hire enough nurses and more than 30% have restricted new admissions due to staffing shortages.

“Since the beginning, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected long-term care residents as well as the facilities and staff that care for them,” President and CEO of THCA Kevin Warren said. “Despite an increase in vaccination rates, the Delta variant has prolonged increased costs related to the pandemic and have continued to make it difficult for facilities to attract staff to the profession and afford to retain them due to a hyper-competitive labor market for direct care staff.”

These pains have been felt by facilities in Brenham. Mark McKenzie, CEO of Focused Post Acute Care Partners, which owns Focused Care at Brenham, said something must change to keep employees that have weathered the pandemic from leaving.

“Those that continue to show up are completely worn out. It’s not just a Focused Care issue; it truly is an industry issue. Those that continue to come — whether it’s the administrator, the director of staff, all positions up and down the line — it’s beginning to take a tremendous toll on them,” McKenzie said.

He said Focused Post Acute Care Partners is making changes to promote retention of employees and to provide a happier workplace with the potential to move up.

“We have put in tremendous retention strategies in an effort to make sure the people we get stay with us and that they connect with both the organization, the community itself and the residents,” McKenzie said. “We have them come in but in the first 90 days, we have been able to identify that virtually 53% of those team members left. So it made us look at what is going on and create a different approach with helping them at the beginning.”

McKenzie said the funds the THCA is asking for is to help pay for “meaningful retention programs” to be put into in place.

Specific plans for the funds include the addition of sign-on bonuses, overtime pay, use of direct care agency staffing support, and employing a designated, facility-based position of infection prevention specialists. It also includes long-term care nursing student loan repayment assistance programs for candidates who meet eligibility criteria for application and the transition costs for Temporary Nurse Aides to become Certified Nurse Aides as well as Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) to RN bridge programs that allow LVNs to use their previous experience and educational backgrounds to attend “bridge” or transition courses to complete the Associate Degree Nursing curriculum in an accelerated process.

“How do we put meaningful retention programs in place for our team members but more importantly, how do we create an environment that helps them enhance their skills and create job mobility in a meaningful way? By that, I mean not only retain them to the program but career pathing and programing we can put together or afford to pay so they can get plugged into the local community,” McKenzie said. “Brenham is a prime example. We have an opportunity through the local college to do some things with a team member if we had the funds to help design the program. For example, we could move a lower position into a different program and help them continue their education so we can have some retention in the facility.”

“We want to design thoughtful programs other than just throwing money and saying, ‘Here use this money to create a different minimum wage rate.’ Thought the initial euphoria of whatever that is well worth the moment, you haven’t solved the problem because that still isn’t going to bring new people into the industry and that certainly runs the risk of not helping us reaching back out to share a meaningful component for people who left to come back to the industry. We have to take funds and the state needs to really focus on collaborating with the industry as a whole and take an honest appraisal from the operators of what is meaningful for the group of team members we are trying to retain. Everyone gets looped into this. Let’s not forget we have team members in alternative roles also in the same wage level that needs help as well. Our housekeepers, our laundry team members and our food service team members would all benefit from us having a meaningful wage so that we can develop into a strategic retention, education and career development platform.”

Focused Care at Brenham is operating at an estimated 75% workforce.


Read this Article on the Brenham Banner here.