InterFace Panel: Staffing Remains Top Challenge for Seniors Housing Operators

by Jeff Shaw

LOS ANGELES — There have been plenty of challenges facing seniors housing in recent years, whether dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising interest rates, rapid inflation or natural disasters.

But while those all reflect outside influences and specific timeframes, one challenge is a constant: recruiting and retaining quality staff.

“We all know all roads lead back to operations and operators at the end of the day — that’s what it’s all about,” said Dan Baker, director at JLL Capital Markets. “Labor and staffing are the biggest challenges for those operators.”

Baker made his comments as moderator of a panel entitled “Best in Class Operators’ Blueprint for Success in a Challenging Market” at France Media’s InterFace Seniors Housing West conference, held last week at the Omni Los Angeles.

The panel of operators included Adam Benton, senior vice president, Stellar Senior Living; Jim Biggs, chief operating officer, Momentum Senior Living; Carl Hirschman, executive vice president of senior living, Anthology Senior Living; and Dale Boyles, managing director of seniors housing, Alliance Residential.

“We’re now transitioning from being reactive to proactive because there’s been a lot of body shots over the past few years — COVID, the labor market, rising interest rates, inflation,” said Hirschman. “Each time you figure something out, then it changes and you have something else to figure out. Now the dust is settling. It’s switching from ‘the house is on fire, we have to put it out’ to “we need to create a forward-moving plan and really be intentional about it.’”

Benton suggested the key to success is more from retention than it is recruiting — specifically consistency in leadership.

“The longer and more consistent the leadership in place, the better you’ll do at providing service. That’s been an incredible challenge in the past. It will continue to be a challenge, but it’s a huge opportunity if you can nail that.”

Boyles has a unique perspective because Alliance is exclusively developing new properties. That means every new community is built from the ground up both physically and in terms of staffing.

“We need to build a brand-new team and hire up to 100 employees. Being able to find and attract and retain top talent — we’re always looking for the best of the best — is a big challenge.”

Biggs’ perspective is also unique, but for a different reason. In addition to his role Momentum, he also teaches at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California (USC).

“When you study which communities did well during COVID and which did not, the difference maker always seems to be the quality of that executive director,” said Biggs. “That’s one of the reasons I teach. Two of our new administrators are both ex-USC students that I’ve seen both in the classroom and running through our administrator-in-training program.”

Biggs went on to suggest that forging strong relationships with universities is the key to having a strong pipeline of quality employees always at the ready.

“Work the relationships with the universities. They can’t train as well as we can in the [seniors housing] companies, but it’s a starting school. Your companies can become more finishing schools.”

— Jeff Shaw

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