Local bans on public gatherings to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have shuttered restaurants, bars and nightclubs across the country, leaving many suddenly out of work or uncertain where their next paycheck will come from. But the senior living industry could help absorb some of the blow by hiring these workers, which would also fill much-needed staff positions as the coronavirus begins to appear in more communities across the country. A few providers — including Lake Oswego, Oregon-based Eclipse Senior Living and Chicago-based Pathway to Living — and industry associations are already talking about ways to accomplish this.
Covid-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — has sickened at least 179,000 people worldwide. In just a matter of months, the pandemic has killed thousands of people and ravaged financial markets across the world. And the crisis could last for many months more.
In major U.S. cities such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, local governments have begun banning large public gatherings and ordering occupancy restrictions or temporary closures for nightclubs, bars and restaurants. As necessary as these closures are to delay the spread of Covid-19, these measures have left thousands of people unsure of their next paycheck. In Connecticut alone, 8,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last weekend, the state’s Department of Labor reported.
At the same time, the senior living industry needs fresh workers more now than perhaps ever before, which begs the question: Should senior living providers try to attract some of these former hospitality workers to the industry? The answer is a resounding yes, according to Erin Shvetzoff Hennessey, CEO of senior care consulting and management firm Health Dimensions Group.
“While the economic impact of hospitality and other business closures or reductions are heartbreaking for many, it is an opportunity for these workers to find immediate and rewarding work where they are desperately needed right now, in senior care,” Hennessey told Senior Housing News. “We hope people see this as a way to serve and also to make a living during a hard time for our country.”
In addition to finding licensed and certified direct care staffers, senior living communities also need workers to help serve meals, clean or just keep residents company, and former hospitality workers would fit in well in that respect, Hennessey said.
And while there are some hurdles to simply hiring former hospitality workers en masse — such as state requirements on staffing and training, and even fear of the disease itself — there are possible solutions to these problems, too, such as temporary certification waivers, targeted messaging and hiring outreach from providers — and perhaps even creative ways to use empty schools as training centers.
Putting out the call
Already, some senior living organizations are looking for ways to hire hospitality professionals in need of some new work.
At Pathway to Living, leaders held a remote meeting Monday to discuss ways to do just that. The company has spent time reaching out to prospective employees on social media, among other efforts, according to Pathway to Living COO Maria Oliva.
“We are currently creating Facebook and Instagram ads [and] activating an internal team member referral campaign to reach out to their friends and families in need of work,” Oliva said. “[We are also] connecting with local chambers of commerce and local township/villages to post opportunities in Pathway communities, as well as reaching out to schools for either students and even teacher opportunities.”
Discovery Senior Living, which is headquartered in Bonita Springs, Florida, is also engaged in hiring out-of-work hospitality associates. The company is meeting with community leaders and contacting colleges to get the word out, and is on the hunt for regular and temporary employees, Lisa Lacy senior vice president of HR with Discovery Senior Living, told SHN.
For Eclipse CEO Kai Hsiao, finding talent might not be the hard part. The challenge is, once a provider brings new people on board, moving these hires through an orientation and training pipeline that isn’t always fast.
One possible solution to this problem is that providers could work with states to provide waivers on certain time-consuming steps, such as background checks, Hsiao said. Pathway to Living is also on board with this idea.
Industry association Argentum is currently collaborating with state regulatory agencies on that exact topic, according to James Balda, the association’s president and CEO.
“Safety for our employees and residents remains a top priority, but during extreme circumstances like Covid-19, we are collaborating with state regulatory agencies to find alternative approaches to meet state requirements,” Balda told Senior Housing News. “For example, allowing longer time periods to meet some pre-employment requirements such as employee physicals, TB testing and reference checks.”
Argentum is also brainstorming ways to expedite initial training requirements, which sometimes takes the form of state-approved classes or seminars that are likely hard to organize in the middle of a pandemic crisis.
“Can we allow crossover for employees licensed or certified in another state to perform similar jobs?” Balda said. “These creative approaches will enable us to hire and onboard new employees more quickly without impacting the safety and well-being of our residents.”
Meanwhile, many cities and states have temporarily closed schools — and that could offer an opportunity for those governments to repurpose those spaces into training hubs for clinical workers for the senior housing and care industries.
“It would be great if they could start using those schools as training centers for people who are either in retail or hospitality … to get trained and get certified by the state,” Hsiao said. “And then the state could also determine from a distribution standpoint where to send these folks who are now trained and ready to go.”
Fear of Covid-19 may make some former hospitality workers squeamish about joining the senior living industry, which is no doubt more susceptible to the disease than many other business segments; a New York Times analysis found personal care aides among the most at-risk workers for the coronavirus. But providers might be able to pitch the fact that working in senior living now is a way to make a meaningful contribution in the midst of a worldwide crisis. People that seek out the senior living industry are sometimes more altruistic than people in other careers, Hsaio pointed out.
In the end, the industry will likely need a range of ideas in order to tackle the current Covid-19 crisis, according to Susan Hildebrandt, vice president of workforce initiatives at LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of services for older adults, including senior housing.
Attracting displaced workers is top of mind for LeadingAge, and the organization last fall updated its tips and guidelines on bringing more displaced workers into the senior living industry.
“I would say all this is very up in the air as the situation has escalated so rapidly,” Hildebrandt told SHN. “So, I think that a lot of options are on the table now.”
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