Exploring The Shortage & Exploring Strategies For Success
Home care in the United States is a critical service. With 54 million Americans 65+ (increasing to 95 million by 2060) and nearly 25% of adults having some form of disability, home care has never been more important than it is now.
Thousands of special-needs individuals, disabled people, and aging elders require help with shopping, day-to-day living support, and other essential services that allow them to lead healthy, fulfilling lives.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, home care agencies nationwide were struggling with a caregiver shortage. And post-pandemic, some agencies have lost anywhere between 20% and 50% of their workforce.
So, how do home care agencies adapt, survive, and thrive during these turbulent times? Unfortunately, you can’t just wave a magic wand to get more people into home care roles, raise wages, or make the work easier.
But what you can do is put your agency in the best position to succeed using today’s latest technology. That’s where specialized home care workforce management systems come in.
Using workforce management software helps home care agencies avoid obstacles that limit their cases. The ultimate goal is getting caregivers ready to work more quickly so all shifts can be filled with fewer workers and no money is left on the table.
The right technology can mitigate the effects of the labor shortage and COVID-19 mandates through:
- Vaccine tracking.
- Availability monitoring.
- Shift tracking.
- Compliance training and documentation.
In this guide, we’re going to dive into the hurdles limiting the success of home care agencies and their ability to fill shifts. And, we’ll discuss the workforce management technologies and incentives that can help you attract more workers, fill more shifts, and care for more patients.
Understanding The Shortage
The Top 6 Challenges Facing Home Care Agencies
To understand how to solve the caregiver shortage, we need to examine the root cause of the problem.
Based on our conversations with home care agencies across the country, the following are some of the most significant contributing factors.
1. Employee shortages and turnover
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a shortage of home care workers. In 2019, job openings were predicted to grow by 41% from 2016 to 2026 – much higher than the 7% average across other professions.
There simply are not enough people to fill the job openings required by an increasingly aged, disabled population.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation more challenging, reducing the employee pool by 10 to 20% (according to some estimates). Some reasons for this include:
- COVID fears: Home care workers and workers at long-term care facilities have a higher risk of developing COVID-19.
- Low Pay: Starting pay is low for these positions. According to Indeed, home health aides start at 11.91 per hour. At 30 hours a week, that’s only $18,579 per year.
- Work environment: These individuals are often asked to go into unsafe neighborhoods, enter unhealthy living conditions and deal with grumpy, uncooperative patients. Suffice to say, the ones that do this job are walking saints.
- Turnover: In 2021, the turnover rate for caregivers was 65%, with an estimated cost of $3,700 to hire and train a new caregiver, according to a homecare benchmark study.
Combined with generous unemployment benefits, many home care workers preferred to stay home or even retire instead of going back to work. Combine the risk of COVID-19 with the low pay, travel and job demands, and it’s no surprise new professionals are not entering the field.
2. Vaccine mandates
Vaccination dramatically reduces the risks of COVID-19. This means home care workers can work more safely around their patients, particularly the elderly or immunocompromised. But this leads to some other unique challenges in states where vaccines are mandatory for health workers.
For example, in New York, all home care workers must be vaccinated. The same goes for California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. Click here to view your state’s vaccine mandate.
While some religious exemptions are available, these are quite limited. This means that workers who are not willing to get vaccinated are not eligible to work for many home care agencies.
Because these people refuse the vaccine, they are ineligible to come back to work. They may want to, but vaccine requirements mean that simply is not an option.
3. Competing for workers
It’s common for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and other home care workers to work with multiple agencies to get the amount of work they want.
Whether 40+ hours per week or part-time with a flexible schedule, it’s not uncommon for caregivers to work with 4 to 5 agencies. Working with multiple agencies makes it easier to get the shifts, times, and patients they want.
Consequently, for you, this means you’re now competing with other agencies for a smaller pool of resources – making it harder to get proper shift coverage.
4. Shortages of skilled workers
The shortage of home care aides is difficult enough to deal with, but it’s only made worse for agencies that also place skilled workers, like nurses and CNAs. It can be hard to find workers with the specialized skills necessary to provide prescribed patient care – especially in such a competitive environment.
In these scenarios, worker shortages are even more severe. There are fewer people available and their unique skill sets puts them in higher demand.
5. Low margins
Home care agencies thrive on low margins and high volumes. In other words, because of what Medicaid is willing to pay, your agency does not make much money on each case – but by making a small amount on a large volume, you can sustain and grow your operations.
That means that increasing the minimum wage for home caregivers will help, but won’t solve the problem. Even if wages are raised, home care agencies need to operate near capacity to achieve profitability.
So, while sign-on bonuses and higher wages may help, unfilled shifts can still take a serious chunk out of your bottom line – particularly if other agencies also raise pay to attract more workers.
6. Compliance training and certifications
New home care workers entering the workforce face a series of hurdles before starting to book cases, namely compliance training and certifications.
The longer this process takes, the longer that willing resource is unavailable to you.
A workforce optimization system that specializes in compliance can be the key to helping home care workers get and remain compliant, especially since compliance training rules vary by state and designation.
Reducing onboarding complexity and providing the tools needed to complete online training can help attract home care workers and fill more shifts.
Overcoming the Caregiver Shortage
How Workforce Management Software Can Help
While not an exhaustive list, the challenges outlined above are all major contributing factors to the caregiver shortage.
But what can you do about it? In this section of our guide, we’ll explain how workforce optimization and caregiver case matching software can help eliminate roadblocks, get workers onboarded faster, and help you fill your shifts more quickly.
Greater visibility into worker availability
In the past, the most reliable way to schedule a home care worker was to call them. Calling multiple workers to cover shifts is a time-consuming, difficult process. And, because many workers are part-time and some work for multiple agencies, it isn’t easy to coordinate staff schedules.
However, when home care workers are using technology to manage their calendars and accept and schedule their shifts, agencies tapped into the same technology can get visibility into who is available and the best match.
Workforce management systems allow caregivers to input their work and client preferences, block out times when they’re unavailable, and detail what type of jobs they are willing to accept. Agencies can then quickly scan the available workforce, prioritize individuals based on various factors, and then automate the outreach to make sure the case is covered.
Vaccine tracking and compliance
Vaccinated workers must have documented proof for compliance. For those with religious exemptions or who choose not to get the vaccine, regular COVID testing must be recorded.
Workforce management systems, like CareConnect, offer automated vaccine tracking and compliance to make it easier for workers to post their compliance with vaccine mandates.
In just a few simple steps, workers can upload their vaccination cards to the system, ensuring compliance with vaccine mandates in cities, like New York, Boston, Portland, and Los Angeles.
To help agencies manage COVID mandates, some workforce optimization companies are converting vaccine tracking features to standalone products.
These products enable caregivers to take photos of their vaccine cards and upload them to the system, which can then be referenced within 10 seconds.
The software provides state-required reporting, so all you have to do is click export and send.
Certification and training tools
Agencies that can simplify and streamline the compliance training process can really stand out in the eyes of home care workers.
You can save workers time and confusion by offering a tool that enables them to quickly and easily complete necessary assignments, assessments, and compliance training from any device. Tout the fact that they’ll no longer need to complete in-person tests, fill out lengthy forms, or return paperwork.
It’s a win-win for both sides. The caregiver can complete compliance training more easily and start accepting shifts sooner. At the same time, agencies grow their employee pool faster and gain favor with the caregivers they need to complete cases.
Even if you save a day or two when hiring a new worker, this adds up in the long run – and it means you’ll have more workers to fill your shifts when you need them the most.
Using workforce scheduling software, it’s possible to offer shifts to workers weeks in advance. This has the obvious benefit of letting your team stay on top of scheduling and avoid scrambling to find last-minute help.
It also makes your agency much more appealing to workers. If you can schedule workers 2-3 weeks in advance, you’re giving them the ability to plan their lives around work.
It has other benefits for workers, too. Longer-term scheduling helps them get the amount of work they want and be more selective about the clients they care for.
Track employee preferences & skills
Online workforce scheduling platforms don’t just let you schedule workers more efficiently. With AI, they can automatically track employee preferences, skills, and specializations – and match up the right workers with the right patients or clients.
This is extremely important, particularly in today’s caregiver shortage. Minimizing caregiver turnover is essential for improving patient outcomes.
For example, you don’t want a caregiver assigned to a patient who is not a good fit, leave after their first shift, and refuse to go back. You’ll scramble to cover that shift and the patient or client may not get the consistent care they require.
As far as the actual preferences of employees go, there are a lot of different things that agencies need to account for:
- Ability to communicate with the patient, especially overcome language barriers and hearing impairment.
- Preferences for longer (8-12 hours), average (4-6 hours), or shorter (2-4 hours) shifts.
- Able to work in environments where people smoke or have pets.
- Ability to handle and control fall risks.
- Work with patients who have dementia and other degenerative brain diseases.
- Experience handling tough, uncooperative, or hostile patients/clients.
As you hire new workers, note their preferences and take them into consideration. Matching workers with the right clients will keep them satisfied, help you keep your shifts covered, and provide better overall health outcomes.
Automate and prioritize communications and shift outreach
In home care, cases are often first come, first serve. You throw the shift out to a pool of workers and when it’s filled, it’s filled.
With workforce management technology, managers can select multiple individuals for a case or shift, and then prioritize outreach to those individuals. Or, they can choose by preferred client caregiver matching.
Set reminders and automatically send cases to the priority caregivers, giving them a set amount of time to respond. If no one takes the cases, the workforce optimization software can then send out the openings to the next group of individuals.
This helps to reduce the administrative scheduling burden while still filling shifts with the most capable and best matched talent.
The Final Challenge
Home Care Workers Must Adopt These Systems
Often, stakeholders and executives in home care agencies are worried about worker adoption for tools like CareConnect. After all, to be useful, home health workers must actually use these tools.
Even the best workforce management platform won’t help you fill shifts if your workers don’t download the app or find value using it.
This is a valid concern if the value of these systems is not clearly communicated to caregivers. After all, how many apps do you have on your phone right now? The average person has 40.
But with systems like CareConnect, you don’t have to worry about user adoption. As one of the leaders in workforce optimization, compliance and scheduling for home care agencies, thousands of home care workers throughout the country already have our app on their phones.
With CareConnect, you’re simply plugging into the community of caregivers you need. We have significant usage in many heavily concentrated areas of the US, including New York City.
Survive & Thrive During The Caregiver Shortage
We hope that this article has been informative and helped you understand the root causes of the caregiver shortage. And while COVID-19 and worker shortages seem to be here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future – that doesn’t mean that your business has to struggle.
With the right workforce optimization, compliance and scheduling technology, you can empower workers. You can break down the barriers that may otherwise prevent them from working with your agency. And you can start filling those open shifts and taking on more cases.
Not only that, but you can match up workers with the right clients and patients, making sure patient outcomes stay consistent or improve.
At CareConnect, that’s exactly what we offer. With our advanced suite of workforce optimization, compliance and scheduling tools, we empower home care agencies and provide them with the technology they need for better outcomes – for their business, their workers, and their clients.
To learn more about what we do, please request a free 30-minute demo.