Charles Turner: Labor is Largest Crisis Facing Seniors Housing

LOS ANGELES — There is a deficit in seniors housing and it has nothing to do with occupancy rates, investment dollars or development opportunities. It’s the labor shortage, according to Charles Turner, a longtime industry veteran and current CEO of Kare, an application that pairs understaffed seniors housing communities with temporary workers.

Turner made the comments as keynote speaker at France Media’s InterFace Seniors Housing West conference, held Feb. 20 at the Omni Los Angeles.

“We all know what’s coming in the next decade — an onslaught of baby boomers aging into seniors housing — but what many don’t realize is that the number of caregivers is actually declining,” he said to the audience of about 250 attendees. “I wish I could say I have all the solutions to the labor problems. I don’t.”

Citing a study by New York-based senior care researcher PHI, Turner mentioned there will be a national shortage of around 150,000 paid caregivers by 2030, which may compound as older caregivers also age out of the workforce and transition from worker to would-be resident.

Though these forward-looking numbers are scary, Turner believes the problems plaguing today’s seniors housing caregivers were scarier.

“Caregiving today has high employee turnover,” he said. “These workers are burned out. They’re overworked. They have to work multiple jobs to eat and afford gas — and they pay for food and gas so they can go back to work.”

Turner

It isn’t just caregivers who are unhappy with this scenario, but the senior care executives who oversee these communities as well. OnShift’s November 2019 Workforce 360 study noted 72 percent of the 1,500 industry professionals it surveyed said employee turnover was the top workforce challenge impacting seniors care organizations today. This lack of quality employees also shows on the job market.

“Indeed.com currently has 360,000 open caregiver positions that are not being fulfilled,” noted Turner. “We are slated to have 312 million unfilled shifts by 2030 if we don’t figure this out. That’s about half the shifts.”

Finding Solutions

Rather than guessing at why current caregivers are so unhappy, Turner advocates talking to these caregivers at various points along their employment journey. This can include when they first express an interest in the position, after they’re hired, a few months into their position, during annual reviews and when they leave their current position, with additional conversations built in when need be.

“The number-one complaint from caregivers probably isn’t what you’d expect to hear,” said Turner. “If it were me, I would assume the complaint would be ‘my boss doesn’t respect me.’ That’s not it. The number-one complaint is showing up for work and having to finish the previous shift’s tasks.

“This is not a caregiver problem. This is a management problem.”

Turner pointed to multiple task-oriented software programs that can outline shift duties that must be accomplished before a shift is complete. As with the top complaint, Turner was also surprised at one of the most enjoyable aspects of the seniors housing facilities.

“Some of our customers who have poorer caregiver retention have fantastic break rooms,” he said — break rooms don’t help with staff retention.

Turner contends the seniors housing industry needs to change its approach to caregivers if it wants to not only stop employee turnover, but attract new blood. This starts with increasing wages, using electronic health records (EHR) that can streamline resident care, and taking nurses off frontline management duties.

“The biggest problem is when a caregiver’s career becomes a commodity,” he said. “Low wages, no advancement, no expensive benefits, heavy workloads, and jobs that are physically and emotionally draining. That has to change.

“Caregivers, especially the younger generations, want to learn. They want jobs with purpose, flexibility, innovation and human contact. That’s a start.”

— Nellie Day