Hospice and Home Health Staffing: Attracting and Retaining Quality Employees

Ask home health care and hospice executives about their agencies’ top concerns and priorities, and staffing issues are bound to be at or near the top of the list. Attracting and retaining staff is key to quality care, patient satisfaction and overall agency success. But a tighter labor market means an increasingly competitive workforce environment, and new minimum wage requirements are further fueling the competition.

The Increasingly Competitive Workforce Market

Workforce competition is a major concern in the hospice and home health industries, and finding qualified, quality employees is one of the biggest staffing challenges. The challenge is not going away.  The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2035, older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. Not surprisingly, as the population ages over the coming decades, health care jobs are projected to be among the fastest growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of new health care jobs will comprise personal care aides, home health aides, and registered nurses, and analysis shows that both the supply-demand and skills gaps will be high. At the same time, unemployment rates continue to decline—the national unemployment rate dropped to 3.7% as of last month—making competition for quality employees even stiffer.

Competition is not limited to the home health and hospice industries. Rising minimum wages are drawing qualified candidates away from health care altogether. Amazon recently announced that it will be raising the minimum wage for all U.S. employees to $15, effective this November, but the retail giant had become a direct competitor even before the October 2nd announcement. As more companies follow Amazon’s lead, says Hayley Gleason, interim executive director of the Massachusetts-based Home Care Aide Council, it will likely add to the already existing workforce shortage.

Recruitment and Retention

The challenge is, and increasingly will be, how to attract qualified, quality staff in such a competitive environment, and how to keep them once you have them. Competitive wages are obviously key, but getting—and staying—competitive will be an ongoing challenge for home health care as Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements fail to keep pace with rising minimum wages.

So what is the answer? Some agencies have begun offering substantial signing bonuses for home health care nurses; others are looking to retirees to help fill the staffing gap. As staffing issues become an ever-increasing priority, industry leaders are getting more creative about attracting and keeping quality employees. Luckily, some of the best recruitment tools are also the best ideas for retention.

Opportunities for advancement can attract motivated workers, and keep them engaged and invested for the long-term. Focusing on quality and training can pay off in retention as well as recruitment by helping to foster a more involved and invested employee base. Paul Kusserow, president and CEO at Louisiana-based Amedisys, says “we focus on quality, we focus on our people and we focus on the tools our people can have…We don’t really have much of a staff problem because we make sure our people know that high quality is essential, any tool they need they can get, [and] we are behind them.”

Rewards and recognition are also crucial to staff retention. “You don’t have to have big recognition programs…It’s about [employees] feeling cared for just like we care for our clients,” said Stacey Buechler, director of employee experience at Omaha, Nebraska-based Right at Home. Buechler believes that wages aren’t always the most powerful motivator. Her agency teams up with a large network of area businesses, allowing her to offer meaningful everyday discounts to her staff. As workforce competition continues to heat up, unique benefit offerings such as these may be necessary to attract and retain qualified hospice and home health care employees.