Full employment—that’s the term economists use to describe a market where virtually everyone who can and wants to work lives. For places like Denver, where the current unemployment rate is an incredibly low 2.8 percent, “full employment” means both a booming economy and a particularly difficult market for retaining team members who care for older adults. Across our state and nation, the large baby boomer population is continuing to age. Many of these older adults are already seeking senior living services and may eventually need skilled nursing care. Our industry must train and retain its workers to meet this increasing need and to provide quality services to these adults.

To keep those valuable workers involves more than just a couple of add-on programs. It often requires an intentional workplace revolution. If you want team members to be supported and valued, you have to listen to their needs and make real changes. Our revolution at Christian Living Communities (CLC) and Cappella Living Solutions (our management and consulting group) has included numerous unique initiatives with the goal of becoming best of the best for both our residents and staff. Because we are a not-for-profit that owns, operates and manages numerous communities with a continuum of care options, these new strategies were put into place for all our different levels of living. They made a particular difference, though, in retaining certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and other skilled caregivers, who are hard to find in our current job market.

Offering financial and life guidance

One immediate way we worked to tangibly value team members from CNAs to concierges was through $820,000 in additional pay raises this past January. We considered ways to cut other aspects of our budget and were able to offer significant raises for 66 percent of our 640 employees so they could stay and thrive in their current roles.

In addition, we increased our cost of living raises from 2.5 to 3 percent for all employees and lowered health insurance costs and deductibles for team members across the board, even offering a zero cost plan. These financial changes have made a big difference for many team members, enabling them to remain where they are, serving the people they love. I can think of one team member in particular who thought she would have to quit and move to a more affordable state. As a single mom with two daughters, she shared that the “pay increase may not look like much to others but, for me and my family, it means life.” The raise is allowing her to move out of the motel where her family has been living and once again into a home of her own.

Christian Living Communities also recently implemented a Critical Needs Fund. Just in the last six months, 10 team members have accessed this fund, mostly for transportation needs.

Our employees also now have access to a “navigator”—someone who can help them access funding, create a financial action plan and get help with rent, car repairs, legal assistance, childcare needs and more. The services are free and employee participants remain anonymous. More than 20 employees were served by this service in the first quarter of 2018 alone.

Providing and supporting classes, scholarships and partnerships

Our Student Debt Reduction fund aids team members with student debt from college or nursing school. Big companies often get the spotlight when it comes to educational funding, but that doesn’t mean that our team members can’t grow and achieve. In addition to covering schooling costs, CLC awarded over $23,000 in scholarship to 16 staff members just this past year.

CLC has also begun to meet our critical need for CNAs by “growing our own” rather than waiting for applicants. Just recently, we partnered with the Community College of Aurora to offer grant-funded tuition to enable entry-level employees to obtain a CNA license. With strong mentoring and support, seven individuals have already graduated from this nursing program and three are now employed by CLC, with a fourth coming onboard this July. A fourth class is scheduled for October of this year.

Increasing flexible hours and PTO donation program

Time off is another particularly important aspect of every employee’s work environment, and it is a vital component of caregivers and nurses maintaining a healthy work-life balance. In response to feedback from staff surveys, CLC recently began offering alternative schedule options to all team members in all areas. These offerings include flexible start and stop times, compressed work weeks, job sharing, and remote work options. To get more money in team member pockets, CLC increased the maximum number of earned PTO hours each team member can cash out and expanded the number of payroll advances a team member can have. Through the established Paid Time Off Donation program, staff members can also donate part of their paid time off to coworkers in need.

Communication and technology – Keeping staff in connection via the CLC Loop

Good communication is one particularly difficult aspect in senior care, but vital to quality care and a sense of team connection. Over 60 percent of CLC employees do not have an office or a computer and may not receive important communication in a timely manner. We wanted our employees to feel connected and know how to best support residents, so CLC became the first senior living provider in the country to offer its staff an innovative, internal communications tool. “The Loop,” as we call it, is a social media application that provides on-the-go information on everything from current community needs to events and chat groups. According to our Holly Creek Retirement Community concierge Jude Wherley, “It’s like a Twitter page for employees.”

Fostering team spirit through Keepers Committees

Equally important as ongoing and effective communication is the chance for team members to share physical community and build relationships. Several of our communities have formed, or are in the process of developing, committees of residents and employees who plan department-specific events and address staff needs. The goal of these groups is to cultivate positive team spirit, strengthen relationships and give staff and senior residents a chance to solve issues together. In many ways, the Keeper’s Committee not only helps residents connect with and appreciate our staff, but also gives them a greater purpose—to support those who help care for them.

All these changes responded directly to employee requests and have helped us better value our team members. The result is that we have seen real results and fairly quickly. For instance, the Keeper’s Committee cut employee turnover after its first six months at Holly Creek. Overall, Christian Living Communities has already seen a 5 percent increase in our retention of valuable staff, including CNAs and other skilled team members who are hard to replace in our current economy.

We hope and believe that ongoing work in these areas will not only continue to forge a company culture that values and supports the many special people on our team but will also inspire others in skilled nursing and senior care to do the same.

For more information on how we can help you overcome your organization’s senior living employment challenges, give our Cappella Living Solutions team a call at 720-684-4600.

  • Our leadership in the area of attracting and retaining employees in this super-competitive economic climate was also featured on McKnight’s.

  • Pioneer Network, pioneers in culture change and person-directed care, shared this story on their website: link.

  • This story was also picked up by The Denver Post: link.


About the Author

Jayne Keller

Jayne Keller is the Vice-President of Operations for Cappella Living Solutions, CLC’s management and consulting group. She brings more than 30 years of experience in senior services, with expertise ranging from administrating in skilled nursing to operating a full continuum community with both assisted and independent living.

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