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Quintin King, president, Brightwater Senior Living, Bend, Ore., knows the score when it comes to workforce challenges, managing and operating 12 communities mostly in the Western U.S. and in Canada.

The shortage of workers knows no borders, but that has not stopped Brightwater from implementing an innovative new program that has helped build retention levels in recent months.

The change has come from the installation of a staff educator/training lead inside each community. The community-level attention to staff in the form of the staff educator has helped boost retention rates by around 15 percent on a year-on-year basis, he said.

“Every week there’s a new training program. Whether we train staff on how to look for residents who are struggling with falling or how to handle bed alarms. You name it, we cover it through this community-level education process,” King said.

“We do all of the training in the building itself. This is different than most other organizations that are sending out training staff from headquarters.”

From the employee perspective, they want to know what they need that day from a community-level perspective, which makes each training program unique to their specific needs.

“We are focusing on this for them. The staff educator helps with training them, onboarding, and then they go through weekly training on a regular basis on some new topic that’s specific to that community,” King said.

Brightwater only started the community-level educator last year but is now rolling the program out across all the buildings after seeing the initial positive returns on retention. “They feel like they’re more trained. They feel like they’re better supported in that process,” King said.

Resident Outcomes Improve

Training for training’s sake is of course not the goal. The point is to improve residents’ lives and make their health outcomes as positive as possible. At Brightwater, the community-level training lead has instilled a confidence in workers who are now better able to do their jobs.

“We have to make sure people are doing the routine correctly and be ready for any emergencies as well. For instance, we’re teaching employees the proper way to don and doff gear. Because there are certain ways to do it,” King said.

When asked where the idea came from, he said Brightwater had a health services director who was struggling in the role, but at the same time was a phenomenal trainer or coach.

“I said, I wish we could keep her because she’s really good. In the end, we decided to invest in her because if she’s really good, I wanted to see how well this goes [as a community-level training leader]. So, we invested and kept her onboard and we just kept going,” he said.

The move has paid off in the bottom line as well, reducing the need for agency in buildings as the retention rate rises. “Some operators are spending $500,000 on an agency out there or would you rather spend an extra $60,000 to $70,000 on an educator and I can actually try to reduce that $500,000 down to $250,000.”

Brightwater on Both Sides of Border

King said the issues with finding workers is not unique to the U.S., and actually more of an issue in more lightly populated Canada.

“Canada’s a much smaller country than the U.S., but they still have the same issues with an aging population. They have the same workforce shortages issues, too, which can be more challenging in many cases because there is a smaller pool of workers to draw from,” he said.

In Canada, there has also been a push to bring in workers from foreign countries specifically to work in the senior living sector, with King pointing to recruiting efforts in countries like the Philippines, as an example.

“The challenge is that with the influx of migrant workers, a lot of them still want to go back home. So, I have a number of people who leave for a month or two months at a time.”

Plus, King added, throughout the pandemic, many migrants left their home countries with even fewer healthcare workers than what were needed. “It’s leaving them in disarray. It’s creating that bigger challenge for the home countries.”

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