Lifespace Communities President and CEO Jesse Jantzen (left) and Chief Strategy Officer Mike Roach discuss how to attract and retain workers in senior care.

May 07 2024
Digital Workspace

How Senior Care Organizations Are Using Tech to Attract and Retain Staff

Amid healthcare’s workforce shortage, aging-services providers turn to technology to streamline workflows and boost efficiency.

Lifespace Communities, which operates 17 senior care communities in seven states, is finally seeing a positive change in the labor market after struggling to attract and retain staff during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, says Chief Strategy Officer Mike Roach, it’s “no secret” that healthcare in general — and senior care in particular — is extremely staff-intensive.

Lifespace and many other senior care organizations are turning to IT solutions to increase productivity and make jobs more attractive for prospective and current employees.

“We see technology as an enabling tool,” Roach says. “It helps make our team members more efficient at their jobs, and it can also create peace of mind for our team members, so that they’re not distracted or worried about the solutions, and they can put their focus on the residents that they’re serving every day.”

About 77 percent of nursing homes face a moderate to high level of difficulty staying fully staffed, according to a 2023 survey from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. Rachel Reeves, the organization’s senior vice president of public affairs, says that technology can help providers to navigate staff shortages more effectively.

“For employees, it can reduce burnout by helping with specific, remedial tasks,” Reeves says. “In rural communities especially, it could help to check in on more patients while reducing travel time. When adopted in a thoughtful and coordinated manner, technology can improve the quality of care for residents.”

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Technology to Attract and Retain Senior Care Staff

Lifespace is in the process of revamping its career website to better attract new employees, and the organization relies heavily on Workday, the enterprise human capital management system, for its HR operations.

“We use it for the entire lifecycle of the team member: recruiting, time tracking, payroll and PTO, benefits and learning management,” Roach says. “It’s a holistic tool that can be accessed via mobile. It gives us better analytics around our payroll and labor expenses, and it gives our team members an incredible amount of visibility.”

“It isn’t about cutting staff or reducing their time, or having a negative impact on team members,” adds Lifespace President and CEO Jesse Jantzen. “What Workday does is help us to more efficiently manage that scarce resource.”

Roach and Jantzen also point to technologies that aren’t directly related to HR but help improve employee productivity and satisfaction — all while also facilitating better outcomes for residents. One of these is VirtuSense, which uses sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to help predict falls.

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“It frees up time because you don’t have to do as many bed checks,” Roach says. “That allows team members to focus on other important activities, and it also helps our residents get a better night’s sleep since they have fewer interruptions.”

Lifespace is also piloting CarePredict, a digital health platform that leverages wearable devices and AI.

Just as important as the technologies themselves is how they are deployed and managed, Roach says. “You need to understand how technology will be used by the by team members in the specific context of their work,” he adds.

“A lot of organizations will chase a bright, shiny object, and then you end up with this random environment,” Jantzen says. “You might have different apps to communicate with residents in different communities, or three different scheduling options. You don’t want a hodgepodge. You want an integrated suite of solutions.”

Jesse Jantzen


Freeing Up Senior Care Staff Time to Spend with Residents

Spurred by a large grant from the widow of a former resident, RiverSpring Living in the New York City metro area has aggressively pursued technologies, including food service robots, new clinical systems and even an AI-powered hand-washing system that gamifies hygiene.

“We started embracing using technology to fill the gaps, help us be more efficient and make the workforce more eager to want to work for our organization,” says CIO David Finkelstein. The organization serves about 18,000 New Yorkers between its home care arm, its managed long-term care plans and its nursing home, assisted living and housing facilities.

In RiverSpring Living’s gym, a ceiling-mounted robot called ZeroG helps recovering seniors to learn to walk again. The robot’s harness supports up to 60 percent of a resident’s body weight, helping them to move more freely. If the system senses that a resident is likely to fall, it will add more tension to keep them upright.

“It really allows us to push the residents faster and harder to get rehabilitated,” Finkelstein says. “We used to need two staff members to hold a resident, but now we only need one to observe, and the other can work with other residents.”

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Another robot, called Pepper, uses facial recognition to greet residents by name, and it participates in group activities such as singing and dancing. RiverSpring is also implementing a remote ordering system at its dining hall, where residents and attendants can order food from a tableside Apple iPad device; a service robot called Servi Plus brings the food out and buses tables after meals. This way, staff can stay with residents rather than making trips between the kitchen and the dining room.

Additionally, RiverSpring is investing in resident-facing systems that improve care while also streamlining employees’ jobs. Using a new nurse call system with detailed reporting, for instance, RiverSpring has reduced the average call response time to under two minutes. A different system measures multiple vital signs at once and automatically enters resident data into their medical records, and another uses infrared to help clinicians find veins for IV and blood draws.

“That system only costs a couple thousand dollars, and it helps reduce stress for residents and save time for nurses,” Finkelstein says. “Now we don’t have to send residents out to the hospital to have their blood drawn, and we’ve freed up at least four to five hours a week for every nurse.”

Managing Access to Protect Senior Care Data

With the majority of senior care facilities relying on at least some level of help from temporary workers, cybersecurity and identity and access management tools are of paramount importance, says Jennifer Griveas, vice president and chief legal officer for Ohio-based Eliza Jennings Senior Care Network.

Access management is always a big deal when it comes to protecting private data,” Griveas says. “The risk with external workers is that there are more people that might have access. If someone is no longer working for you, they no longer have any reason or right to access protected health information connected to your patients. When we have open access and active passwords that would allow someone to still get into a system, it sets up the potential to have someone touching your data who shouldn’t be.”

The solution here is often more a matter of best practices and policies than specific technologies, adds Michael Gray, vice president of IT.

“One of the most common problems is that people share credentials at some organizations,” he says. “A temporary person walks in, and they either use someone else’s credentials or there’s a set of generic credentials that they are using, which is also bad.”

13.8 percent

The percentage of nursing homes that have outside agency staff present in their facilities every day, at a cost of 50 to 60 percent more per hour than regular employees

Source: Source: Health Affairs, “Nursing Homes Increasingly Rely On Staffing Agencies For Direct Care Nursing,” February 2024

Instead, Gray says, senior care centers should grant temporary workers only the access they need to do their specific jobs, and conduct regular audits to disable accounts that haven’t been used for a certain period, usually 30 days.

Gray says that it is also important to keep IT environments as simple as possible. Eliza Jennings uses Microsoft Teams for collaboration, file sharing and basic office productivity, giving users one holistic environment.

“When you start stacking too many tools together, they can actually be a burden,” Gray says. “You want technology to make employees more efficient, not confused and frustrated.”

Photography by JerSean Golatt

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