Challenges Facing Senior Care in 2022

Stephen Lomonico_President_Thrive

Stephen Lomonico, NHA, president, Thrive Behavioral Sciences

The senior care industry has had to navigate tremendous challenges over the past year. From staffing shortages to the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 hasn’t been easy. While advancements like the COVID-19 vaccines have brought some relief to those challenges, the senior care industry will face many more challenges as we move into 2022.

We reached out to experts in the senior care field to learn their predictions about the coming year.

2022 Challenges in Senior Care

Stephen Lomonico, NHA, president, Thrive Behavioral Sciences, notes that staffing is a major challenge affecting the senior care industry. “In looking at everything that is going on right now in Long Term Care, staffing is without question the biggest issue,” he says. “If you can’t staff a facility, you cannot care for your residents.

Caregiver staff inconsistencies create another problem – reliance on ‘agency’ staffing. It’s very expensive and lacks the type of continuity of care that residents deserve. All this has led to facilities having to deny access because they don’t have sufficient staff to stay above the state mandated minimum. This problem has a compounding effect by limiting the total revenue a facility can generate.”

Lomonico notes that staff challenges also limit facilities from being able to accept patients transferred from hospitals. Instead, those patients are often routed outside of their communities, which makes it difficult for friends and family to visit, resulting in a significant emotional impact.

Jennifer Avila, Executive Director at Custom Home Care, LLC, agrees that labor shortages are a major challenge. In addition, she highlights occupancy challenges and ongoing COVID-19 related issues as challenges the industry will face in 2022.

“The coming year is anticipated to be a rebuilding year for many senior living communities,” she explains. “Due to the pandemic, seniors and their families have been hesitant to make a decision to move into a community setting. They have seen the news reports about the high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in facility settings and have put off the decision to move. All of the reasons seniors move into a senior care community – meals, activities, socialization, etc. – were upended during the pandemic.

“Communities had to suspend activities and social events, prohibit visitors, close their dining rooms and amend the services they offered. Communities also suffered from labor shortages in many service areas like housekeeping and care staff which can lead to decreased resident satisfaction.”

Avila notes that the stock market, real estate market, and the aging population all indicate that senior care community occupancy is poised to bounce back.

“The senior living industry’s occupancy and move-in rates have always closely mirrored the financial market and the real estate market,” she says. “Seniors with money invested in the stock market have done very well over the past several years. The WSJ reported in July that Americans 70+ have a net worth of almost $35 trillion. The confidence of a growing portfolio opens up options for seniors in choosing a senior living community – they can take that larger apartment style or choose the community with the swimming pool and golf course.”

Avila also predicts that more seniors will want to sell their homes and downsize in the currently booming real estate market.

“The wildcard for the senior living industry is the ever-changing course of the pandemic,” she adds. “Another surge or variant can affect consumer confidence and cause another downturn for occupancy and revenue.”

Strategies to Prepare for the Coming Challenges

In preparing to the coming challenges, Lomonico notes that senior living communities need to focus on their personal, particularly when it comes to leveraging recruitment support from the local, state, and federal levels to create incentive programs for caregivers, administrative staff, and janitorial positions. “Senior living communities need patient advocates and leadership teams that are committed to hiring the right candidates – not just settling for warm bodies. Cultivating a team environment that thrives on care quality is how we improve patient care and produce better outcomes,” he says.

He also highlights the importance of focusing on the mental health and emotional wellbeing of both residents and staff. “If facilities have good providers who can help both residents and staff, then you have a chance to rise above the challenges of the coming year. Take a look at what your behavioral health provider is doing and make sure you can make the most out of what they offer,” says Lomonico.

Avila explains that senior care communities will need to explore out-of-the-box solutions to navigate the labor shortage. She suggests communities explore technology solutions, including medication management system devices and wearable devices that can track vital signs or let residents call for help.

She recommends that senior care facilities consider looking outside of their industry for staffing help. “The hospitality and tourism sector was hard hit during the pandemic with many employees still out of work,” she says. “Senior care communities should look to these sectors for recruiting. These job seekers have some of the fundamental qualities that we look for in senior care – customer service, a high level of job commitment, good communication, and they are used to working similar hours including holidays and weekends. With additional training, these job seekers can make a natural transition into the senior living industry.”

Avila recommends that senior living communities develop programs to increase employee retention. She says that these programs need to go beyond just raising wages, and should instead also support employees through other challenges like child care, vaccination mandates, and their own health and the health of their family.

Lomonico believes that communities can best navigate the coming challenges through thorough preparation. “You have to prepare for what is coming, which I expect will remain as strict and complex as it is now,” he explains. “If anything is added without also adding sufficient support, you may see people break. Just try to take what COVID has taught us and use it to make your processes better and more consistent. That hopefully will be a secret to success.”

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