Long-term care facilities ‘in dire need’ of staff, caregivers for older adults

MADISON, Wis. – As many find themselves without jobs during the pandemic, one industry dealing with a worker shortage is looking to hire.

The coronavirus outbreak is only worsening what John Sauer calls a workforce crisis facing long-term senior housing providers.

Sauer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin, a trade group that represents nonprofits serving aging adults and those with disabilities, said that more than 20% of caregiver positions in the state are vacant at any given time.

“That’s affected the ability for us to serve more older adults and persons with disabilities. We’ve had to curtail some of our admissions,” he said. “Really, the pandemic has exasperated the staffing crisis, because if somebody is tested or they’re exposed to COVID they really can’t work with older adults.”

In the next 20 years, he said the population of those 85 and older will double.

“We simply cannot turn our backs on older adults who need care,” Sauer said.

He said the problem has multiple causes, one being government payments.

“We must invest in caregivers,” Sauer said. “That means that Medicaid and Family Care have to begin to pay closer to the cost of care so we can improve wages and benefits.”

He also said the industry could do a better job getting the word out about how fulfilling the work can be.

“I gave it a shot and fell in love with it,” Chelsea Renz said.

When Renz first walked into this type of work, she didn’t think she’d still be coming back four years later.

“Before I started, I always thought I couldn’t do that,” she said.

Now a resident assistant at All Saints Memory Care, she sees herself staying there awhile.

“The residents — when you help them and they say ‘thank you, you made my day,’ that’s what gets me through it,” Renz said.

Renz and coworkers are getting through a pandemic while being short-staffed.

“We take precautions,” she said. “It’s a very fulfilling job.”

“We really are in dire need of quality individuals who really have a heart for caring for the elderly,” said David Griffin, president and CEO of ElderSpan Management, which runs All Saints Neighborhood.

While most of the openings at ElderSpan locations are for direct caregivers, they’re also hiring others including housekeepers and dietary staff.

“It’s an excellent opportunity,” Griffin said. “The senior living industry is one of the health care opportunities that is most readily available to individuals that don’t have prior experience.”

The average wage for ElderSpan workers is about $16, according to Griffin, who said there’s room for career growth for employees like Renz.

“I think I might go into CNA or nursing, but I love it here,” Renz said.