Staffing Woes Still Plaguing an Already Hurt Healthcare Facilities Industry

Since the beginning of the pandemic, healthcare facilities have been struggling to recruit and retain new talent. 

By Mackenna Moralez

The ongoing labor shortage is drastically impacting the nation. “Help Wanted” signs are plastered in many windows, while a growing number of companies have taken to social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and even TikTok to recruit new employees. The healthcare industry is not exempt from the challenge. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals and other healthcare facilities have struggled to recruit and retain employees. Staff have been leaving at record rates, and executives are taking notice. For the first time, hospital CEOs have ranked labor concerns as their top issue in the American College of Healthcare Executives’ annual survey. Healthcare facilities are looking for new ways to better attract employees so that patient and resident care isn’t compromised. 

“Salary levels are getting reviewed for improvement during the hiring process due to the scarcity of candidates and their increasing knowledge of their worth,” says Shay Rankhorn, Senior director of facilities management, Quorum Health and president of American Society for Healthcare Engineering. “Managers are now recruiting outside of the normal healthcare field into similar roles in other job sectors and then sending them to ASHE and state chapters for education. 

“Some facilities are reducing the traditional responsibilities to a manageable level to allow focus on the core aspect of their work. Even pre-COVID, many healthcare facilities managers wore so many hats that they were unable to do justice to those roles because they were burned out and eventually left the industry. That is increasing with the additional burden of COVID related issues and many being asked to take on even more responsibility without both commensurate salary and staffing to support the increase to bandwidth.” 

Despite the efforts that healthcare facilities are making, job satisfaction is still at an all-time low, according to a survey by MetLife. Zillennials, a micro-generation born between 1993-1998, in particular are unsatisfied with working conditions and are demanding improvement. The generation has added more than 5 million workers over the last five years, two of which being during the COVID-19 pandemic. These workers have had to struggle with burnout and social isolation at the top of their careers, and as a result, Zillennials are now evaluating their employers and considering all aspects of the job experience beyond traditional benefits.   

One major benefit that has been brought onto the workforce during the pandemic is the ability to be flexible. However, as more people are returning back to the office, employers are taking that privilege away.  

“Work-life balance has always been a core pillar for millennials and even generation X is beginning to realize the benefit,” Rankhorn says. “Then the next generation wants even more flexibility and the freedom to solve problems and approach work in a different way. This means healthcare facilities need to abandon traditional mindsets and allow innovation from those generations that result in high productivity without creating burnout. Healthcare facilities must realize the vital role a HFM has and ensure a plan is in place that enables the success of the candidate long term.” 

However, it is hard to implement flexible work schedules in senior care facilities because residents need assistance around the clock. Managers must make sure shifts are covered at all times so resident care isn’t compromised. 

“As a result of the pandemic and the workforce shortage, senior care facilities workers are burned out,” says a representative from American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living. “They have been fighting this virus for more than two years, and long-term care providers are struggling to compete for workers due to fixed government reimbursement rates. We need support from the government to grow the long-term care workforce. With enough caregivers, facilities could offer benefits like greater flexibility.” 

There are other ways that healthcare facilities are also struggling to recruit new talent besides limited flexibility. An application review software is able to weed out candidates that aren’t initially the right fit, but that can create some problems when reviewing someone’s skillsets outside of what is required by the employer.  

Many facilities require a college degree for a director role, but that isn’t always sustainable given the labor shortage. Some aren’t even considering previous facilities management experience if they also don’t hold a degree.  

“Either the applicant review software or the applicant reviewer automatically removes these candidates due to a lack of understanding that no undergraduate college exists today specifically to this field,” Rankhorn says. “Nor do they understand the vast knowledge base gained from years of experience. Nor is there any awareness or understanding and appreciation for the CHFM certification and the validation of knowledge and competency it brings.” 

Healthcare facilities are now missing out on smart, reliable and hardworking employees just because they don’t fit certain expectations. Rankhorn says part of the reason many healthcare facilities are struggling to hire qualified staff is because they do not totally understand what that looks like for their operations. 

“The problem that needs solving is how to educate on this issue in order to achieve a process that ensures qualified candidates are hired,” he says. “Hiring officials must look for two things: attention to detail and a drive to succeed. Neither of those can be taught, but both are vital to the success of a healthcare facilities manager as there is a vast amount of knowledge and experience that must be attained in order to overcome obstacles.” 

Healthcare managers actually do care about retaining their staff. More companies have begun regularly implementing employee feedback into operations. A survey by Artemis Health found that three out of four companies base employee benefits decisions on employee feedback, which is up 33 percent since 2019. By listening to employees, managers can better create an environment and programs that are best suited for their staff.  

“Long-term care providers care deeply about their employees and continue to build on efforts they already have in place to support the employee experience,” a representative from AHCA/NCAL says. “This includes offering career advancement opportunities, childcare benefits, paid leave, recognition programs, focusing on ways to address workplace burnout, providing wellness programs, or even staff meals during shifts.” 

As more Zillennials and Gen Z workers enter the workforce, all industries will have to adapt to new working demands. Healthcare facilities will have to abandon traditional mindsets that surround positions and their responsibilities. Getting input from this new, younger generation to best modify a role that ensures success will be important to how operations progress in the future. 

“We all know the definition of insanity, yet many times we get tunnel vision and continue to do things the same way and expect a different result,” Rankhorn says. “We need to allow the stark reality of the situation to shake us out of our traditional mindset in order to become innovative and collaborate with the next generation of facilities managers.” 

Mackenna Moralez is assistant editor with Healthcare Facilities Today. 

August 30, 2022

Topic Area: Maintenance and Operations

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