Staffing Shortages and Eldertech: What We Need to Think About

March 7, 2022

The senior care industry is in the middle of a negative macroeconomic confluence of trends.

A national labor shortage and shifting career landscape have made it incredibly difficult for long-term care facilities to hire and retain caregivers and nurses.

Job dissatisfaction and high turnover rates have already made staffing long-term care facilities an arduous task.

Annual turnover rates range from 40 to as high as 75 percent– some organizations are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire, onboard, and train new employees, just for half of them leave after the first year.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused existential turbulence for care facilities. Although many facilities did a great job with minimal or zero Covid cases, the news of nursing home case outbreaks made many families hesitant to move their loved ones, spiraling care facility revenue while costs (such as wages) increase.

Covid safety measures will likely remain in place for many facilities, increasing the workload and scope of the caregiver role.

However, the nation’s elderly population continues to increase. Although this should bode well for the care facility bottom-line, many facilities are forced to turn down new residents because they simply don’t have enough caregivers on staff. We don’t need a crystal ball to see how a national staffing shortage and a massive aging demographic shift don’t bode well for facilities.

Here’s how and why we need to consider eldertech’s role in current and future staffing shortages.

Temporary Solutions for a Permanent Problem

Some care facilities are bracing through the staffing crisis with unsustainable solutions.

For instance, a facility may start relying on agency caregivers, who cost more than double than in-house staff, to fill open shifts. Although open hours are filled, agency caregivers must still be trained to the nuances of the individual facility and residents, and often aren’t there long enough to develop relationships with residents, which are a critical ingredient in providing quality care.

To make matters worse, caregiver agencies are also dealing with their own labor shortage, spread thin under the influx of demand.

Administrators chalk the staff shortage to low wages compared to alternative career options, lack of education opportunities for caregivers, and emergency unemployment benefits, which pay people more money on unemployment than they would make on the payroll.

As an occupation notorious for high amounts of burnout and fatigue, caregiving is starting to make less sense for caregivers on a financial basis alone.  

Outside of baseline financial metrics, people become caregivers because they’re passionate about helping others. Caregiving is an incredibly interpersonal role.

However, when the care facility workforce is strained, the caregiver role is dehumanized in the process. To pick up the slack and provide all residents with the minimum amount of care, efficiency metrics rather than qualitative standards are prioritized.

We can’t lose sight that the quality of care is a point of pride for caregivers; it’s one of the few rewarding aspects of an incredibly difficult job.

Humans are remarkably good at providing care for other humans, because, well, they’re human– they get it and are intrinsically rewarded for a job well done.

The solution simply isn’t to pump new caregivers into the facility– the focus should be on cultivating an environment where human resources are seen as more human and fewer resources.

We can blunt the staffing shortage is by working at the issue’s core– addressing the causes that limit the acquisition of new caregivers and sap caregiver retention. Unless those are fixed, staffing shortage or not, caregiving facilities will continue to ail.

How Eldertech Can Help in the Short Term and Long Term

The lowest hanging fruit of improving the caregiver role is by addressing the inefficiencies of legacy products. Legacy technology is primarily hardware, so fixing the alert fatigue issue would likely require an expensive overhaul and re-installation of devices, rather than a simple software upgrade.

However, to truly address staffing shortages, we must go a layer deeper after zapping away legacy inefficiencies. There is much to gain from applying the wonders of consumer tech innovation over the past decade.

If we zoom into the “caregiver” role, we begin to see how the ambiguity of the term has enabled the profession to, at times, turn into a catch-all role for anything involved with providing care. For instance, the administrative work that comes with caregiving such as logging records and updates on residents.

Our tools should focus on saving caregivers as much time from doing rote tangential caregiving activities so that they can focus on what only they can do– provide high-quality interpersonal care.

Context switching, such as jumping from assisting a resident to updating resident information on a computer, tends to bludgeon productivity and rapidly increase burnout. A Qatalog and Cornell University report on productivity in the modern work era found that:

  • 45% of people note context-switching makes them less productive.
  • 43% of people note that switching between multiple tasks fatigues them.

It’s not a stretch to point out that those percentages fall in line with the range of employee turnover in the caregiver industry.

By automating rote processes, such as logging updates, and providing time-saving collaboration tools, we can use technology to alleviate the burdens that come with caregiving.

In addition to redirecting billable hours to more productive means, we can dramatically improve morale by removing friction between tasks.

Final Thoughts: Dynamic Solutions for a Dynamic Position

The caregiver industry is ripe for an infrastructural facelift, not to mention an aesthetic facelift.

Staffing shortages are a dynamic problem, rather than an isolated static issue that can be solved with a single swipe. As such, we need to understand exactly what caregivers need and use through real-world data.

The collection of accurate data largely underpins the evolution. By creating a feedback loop that allows facilities to evaluate how their tools impact caregivers, we can iterate on the suite of products and services that improve key metrics across the board.

By building a better world for caregivers, we can manage the current staffing shortages and take sweeping preventative measures to establish caregiving as a competitive career path.