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HR Director, Bryan Bessa, Featured In Chippewa Valley Business Report

Posted 5/2/2018

As Seen on Chippewa Vallley Business Report

Extended Care and Rehab: Hiring and Retaining in an Essential Sector

Hiring and retaining employees in the extended care and rehabilitation facilities in the Chippewa Valley is challenging in many ways. Pay can be suppressed in nursing homes by the fact that Medicaid doesn’t fully reimburse extended care costs. Plus, promotional opportunities abound in extended care, meaning entry-level slots are always reopening. And as Baby Boomers age, more jobs are created. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that health care support occupation openings will grow at 23.6 percent over the next eight years. Health care practitioners and technical occupations are expected to swell by 15.3 percent, making these two occupational groups among the fastest growing and they’ll contribute about one-fifth of all new jobs by 2026.

For many who work this sector, one of the biggest perks is the importance of the work. Unlike hospitals, where patients ideally come and go, some staying for only a day, in extended care and rehab, one comes to know their patients. Trust and relationships are established. In short, it’s labor of love.


Grace Lutheran Communities

Dove Healthcare’s challenges are not specific to that organization. Grace Lutheran Communities has two assisted living communities in Eau Claire and another in Altoona and independent living in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, as well as rehab facilities, adult daycare, and even childcare. Like Dove, it’s challenged in filling the RN and CNA slots, as well resident assistants. Pay is part of the problem

Bryan Bessa, Grace Lutheran Communities’ human resources director, said, “These jobs are labor-intensive and not as high paying as jobs in other sectors. I often get asked, ‘Why not just pay them more?’ It’s a logical question, however, our state Medicaid system continues to be one of the lowest reimbursement systems in the nation. Nearly 70 percent of the people we care for are on Medicaid, and most facilities in Wisconsin can lose $50/day per resident caring for residents on Medicaid.”

Demographics further complicate things.

“You couple this with a health care workforce crisis, an aging workforce, and an aging population and you have a recipe for problems. The demand for services is rising, and the supply of workers to help them is dropping. Medicaid and insurance companies tell you how much they will pay you for providing care, but it is not enough to cover the cost of the care. When you look around the state, you see multiple nursing home closures, including in Durand, Strum, Fall Creek, and now Dallas.”

Then there’s the allure of other industries.

“Our staff members have other options, no doubt. We are competing with entirely different industries outside of healthcare that require less skill and training and that pay more as well.”

Meeting Challenges

So, how has Grace responded to these considerable challenges? For starters, they grease the skids to becoming a CNA and even pad that sled for a cushioned ride.

“We offer paid CNA training. This is a big deal because we pay participants a wage while they train. That perk allows them to earn some money while they are preparing for a healthcare career and they get the training for free. It’s also a great way to get the candidates familiar with our communities and gives them a great glimpse at what it means to work there.”

There are also excellent benefits with a real rarity in this work world: health care that is quick and with no co-pay.

“We have an excellent benefits package, including PTO, 403b with a match, and tuition reimbursement. One of the biggest benefits is our health plan. Our partnership with Marshfield Clinic Health System gives our employees who are on the health plan exclusive access to their near site clinic. This allows employees to receive care more quickly and, in many cases, without a charge for the visit.”

As with Dove, Grace Lutheran’s size means lateral and vertical possibilities for its employees.

“Grace Lutheran Communities has one of the largest long-term care networks in the Chippewa Valley. That means stability, but it also means that we can share staff across our communities. This benefits our employees by allowing them more flexibility and advancement opportunities without losing benefits and longevity.”

The extended care health care career can be long-term for the health care providers too, as it keeps them employed through recessions.

“One thing that sets us apart is that it is a stable career. Even when people leave during a manufacturing boom, we see them come back to health care when those industries experience mass layoffs. We are a cornerstone of the economy and a very stable, predictable career choice.”

A Profoundly Purposeful Career

Beyond the benefits, opportunities for advancement and surety of employment, it’s profound purpose that attracts and keeps the extended care and rehab workers.

“Most of our employees would tell you they stay it is their “family,” but not in the sense you imagine. The family they speak of is the people who they directly care for and the residents’ loved ones as well. It just goes to show that building meaningful and trusting relationships with those residents is at the heart of what we do.”

Those relationships increase the quality of the care.

“Being able to learn about the people we care for on an individual basis really embodies what long-term care is about and allows us to provide amazing care.”

And those relationships even increase the quality of the referrals.

“We find that many of our hires come from referrals from other employees, which really helps. First, it is totally objective information which I think means something special compared to the HR department saying, ‘This is a great place to work.’ The other reason is that employees are protective of their work environment and their residents. Staff almost never recommend someone come work for us if they don’t trust them to do a good job. That makes our job in HR much easier!”

Of course, HR in extended care still plays an essential role.

“If I have learned one thing about recruiting and retention, it is the ‘platinum rule,’ very similar to the golden rule which is, ‘Treat one another the way you want to be treated.’ The platinum rule is to “treat others the way THEY want to be treated.” We can’t assume we know how others want to be treated.”

In a sector with so many challenges, retaining your workers is essential, so you become the employee you want them to be, for kindness begets kindness and kindness is the crux of extended care.

“Your people are your most important asset and we need to treat them that way. I think most people want to be valued and they will go the extra mile if they feel you will do the same.”

Grace Lutheran Communities has been helping our friends and neighbors in communities all over the Chippewa Valley since 1960. The non-profit organization specializes in rehabilitation, assisted living, skilled nursing, memory care, child care, independent living, and adult day services.


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