Workforce housing proves to be a powerful tool as hiring and retention crisis persists

Operators have had to get creative with recruiting and retaining staff as labor shortages persist, with the omicron variant, burnout and better compensation opportunities stunting staff growth.

Leaders have had to focus on necessities that workers don’t always have access to, like cellphones and affordable housing.

Majestic Care in Indiana offers a 20% housing discount in select markets through a company called Panda ECS – if a worker lives within 10-15 minutes of a facility, they get the discount with public transportation, Majestic CEO Bernie McGuinness told Skilled Nursing News.

Majestic has been able to partner with different apartment complex landlords in its urban cluster markets, with New York-based Panda doing the legwork, to offer the discount when an employee signs a 12-month lease.

Panda, which launched its housing program in the fourth fiscal quarter of 2021, is set to expand the program with 6,000 discounted units to Maryland nursing home employees, and has select units in the area. of Washington, DC.

Providing social housing is a boon for operators seeking to recruit and retain staff. Such a discount forces employees to think twice before leaving for another industry, or perhaps going to work for an agency or another operator.

“What it does is [if an employee is] save 20%, they’re not just going to walk away from work, are they? They could save $200 a month,” said Panda COO Yoni Abraham. “If you leave, part of the deal is that if you leave, you lose that 20% discount.”

As operators like Penn Health Partners look to bring in workers from overseas and offer relocation benefits to out-of-state staff, the housing component becomes even more important.

While Penn is still working to launch its own housing discount program with Panda, the operator has seen a 10% decrease in agency usage tied to the company’s phone program, said Kristin Oeder, director regional operations for Penn Health Partners, to Skilled Nursing News.

Oeder said she is confident the program has made a big difference in recruitment and retention.

Abraham said the rent discounts are just the start — Panda is looking to expand its housing program to potentially include Panda-owned or operator-owned homes.

“It’s been a big dream for us, being able to house the employees,” Abraham said.

SNF-subsidized housing will be “the norm”

Companies like New England’s Navigator Elder Homes are partnering with workforce housing developers to build apartment complexes for retirement home staff. Navigator is a development partner of The Green House Project, which builds retirement homes that adhere to the tiny house model.

One of Navigator’s projects on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. will have staff apartments around its five Green Houses for residents.

The Martha’s Vineyard project is supported by employee retention, according to Renee Lohman, president and CEO of Navigator Elder Homes. The way an operator retains its employees, she said, is ensuring they have subsidized housing so they feel comfortable living and working on the island.

“They can even walk to work; it creates a whole new community,” Lohman said.

Navigator had to think of creative ways to provide housing for the workforce in a tight real estate market. In particular, the company was able to create such accommodation by reassigning old hotels.

“There’s not much on the cape. There is very little land to get even to build, everything is developed,” Lohman said. “Airbnb has taken over the rental market. You have to be creative and have funds, but [the older hotels] seems to be the way the housing market is going for workforce housing, certainly in Yarmouth which is sort of the heart of the mid cape.

Further down the cape, a trained nursing operator in Chatham found homes to redevelop, Lohman said, and staff have been living in those homes for three years.

“It seems like he’s been successful in keeping everyone he provides housing to in their jobs, or promoting them, and they’ve been very successful, they’ve thrived,” Lohman said. “I think that will be the norm throughout southeastern Massachusetts, all the way to Boston.”

Incentives match worker needs

Panda is focused on securing partnerships with apartment complexes some distance from a facility, Abraham said.

The company primarily works with nursing homes – 70% of its clients are in the skilled nursing sector, Abraham said.

Panda’s housing program, in which the company partners with landlords to offer a discount to retirement home employees, is operational in Indiana and Ohio; the program is about to launch in Michigan, Maryland and Kentucky.

“We work closely with Yoni and her team and challenged them to help us find benefits that could have a substantial impact in the lives of our care team members,” McGuinness said.

Amazingly, there is no upfront carrier fee for such discounts, Abraham said. He sees the Panda Company as a “benefits educator”, ultimately profiting through the items they provide.

As long as the person remains employed at Majestic Care, they will continue to receive the rental discount, McGuinness added; the company works directly with the owner.

Housing programs to meet the moment

Oeder is currently in the planning phase with Abraham to facilitate a similar affordable housing program for the operator’s five facilities in Pennsylvania.

“Many of us operators try to recruit nurses from outside the country. As you sponsor these nurses, they all often need housing and so this is one of the things we are working on. [Yoni]”, Oeder said. “We have traveling nurses, they also need housing, and most facilities don’t have the space or, you know, these nurses don’t necessarily want to stay in the hospital all the time. That’s fair enough, you don’t always want to sleep where you work.

Penn has one registered nurse (RN) coming from the Philippines in the next few months, and two others who are still in the process of being approved to work in the United States.

“They are brand new here, they don’t have any other family here. It is important to provide them with good housing,” Oeder said.

Percentage discounts, benefit amounts, and how a reduction would even be applied depend heavily on the local market, Abraham and Oeder said. Penn’s Erie location is a completely different housing market compared to its two Pittsburgh buildings which are more urban.

“Every state – more or less every city – is different in terms of the time and effort spent on [housing partnerships]“Finding resorts at an appropriate distance from facilities is especially difficult in rural areas like western Pennsylvania.

Apartment complexes that are 98% occupied will be less willing to give a discount, he added. By finding the right partnerships and structuring them correctly, Panda tries to find a site within 20 minutes of the facilities; employees in other situations commuted between half an hour and an hour in some cases, he said.

People mostly live in homes in parts of Washington and Idaho, Abraham added, which makes the program more difficult to implement. It won’t work everywhere, he noted.

There are layers to Penn’s partnership with Panda, Oeder explained. The first is the standard benefits that all employees are entitled to, including entertainment scrubs and discounts, discounted hotel rates. The next layer is more robust, and for Penn, that includes a mobile phone program implemented in October.

“People asked about it when interviewed,” Oeder said. “We put it in the ad, that there’s a free smartphone, you know, free talk, text and data from a 5G provider…I’ve been told by team members that they had never had a cell phone before. It’s really a game-changer for a lot of these people, and it’s one less bill they have to pay.

Panda is also working on launching a daycare program with Majestic, Abraham said, as another way to meet employee needs.

“These are the items they need and use day to day,” Abraham added.

Michael A. Bynum