YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — When General Motors closed its Lordstown assembly plant, Lisa Manolio lost her 15-year job at Magna Seating.
“I didn’t know what to get into because that’s all I knew – how to build seats for the Cruze and everything GM was building at the time,” Manolio says. “I never had a job.”
Manolio applied for a job as a part-time shower aide at the Inn at Walker Mill, an assisted living and memory care facility from Briarfield to Boardman. She eventually moved to full-time and took on other duties, such as background checks for employment.
When Briarfield opened her Briarfield Place Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Boardman, company president Diane Reese offered to pay for Manolio’s training and testing to become a fully state-tested practical nurse. and STNA supervisor there. Manolio accepted.
“I worked in the morning from 5 a.m., 5:30 a.m. until 8 a.m., [then] went straight to school and stayed in school until 2 p.m.,” says Manolio. “I feel good when I leave here. I feel like I mattered, I made a change.
The offer to pay for training and testing is among the incentives offered by Mahoning Valley elder care providers to recruit applicants. Yet hiring and retaining STNAs remains difficult, they say.
Many providers have seen their resident counts drop over the past two years. But now vacancies are being filled and suppliers are scrambling to hire more STNA.
Windsor House has seen resident counts in its 17 locations drop 30% from the pre-pandemic level of some 1,000 residents, says Cindy Cerimele, senior vice president of human resources. Occupancy has since risen steadily to nearly 900.
“So our needs for STNA have grown exponentially,” says Cerimele. “It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time. And it’s very competitive.
Care homes compete for employees against other business sectors such as fast food, manufacturing and retail, she says. Windsor House is offering a signing bonus of $10,000, paid over two years, with the first $1,000 paid after the first 30 days.
This has led to an increase in the number of applicants since January 31, says Cerimele. In March, Windsor hired 107 people and has 60 vacancies at STNA.
“We have to find ways to distinguish ourselves,” says Cerimele. “To bring people into today’s market, you have to be able to offer them something more than that hourly rate.”
But while job seekers are increasing for many local aged care centers, a few lingering problems remain.
The most pressing issue is an emergency waiver for temporary health care aides (TNAs) implemented by the Ohio Department of Health during the pandemic, which expires on June 6. The waiver allowed elder care providers to hire TNAs who completed online course and on-the-job training instead of the 80 hours of theoretical and clinical instruction required to pass an STNA test.
Local aged care providers are now working to get these TNAs tested. After the waiver expires, they will have 120 days to pass their STNA test or have to start the training again from scratch.
Windsor House has around 80 aides on staff who will need to take their STNA test before this deadline. “We have already tested a lot of them,” says Adrianne Carlson, recruiter at Windsor House. “We didn’t wait.”
To help them prepare, STNA supervisors work alongside them. “We assign them a mentor – someone they can go to with their questions,” says Cerimele.
There aren’t many training courses for STNAs in the area, says Reese of Briarfield. “And they’re going to fill up fast because of the number of temporary nursing assistants everyone employs,” she says.
Tracie Staebler, director of human resources at Shepherd of the Valley, says some nurse educators – who are nurses themselves – have left teaching to earn more as agency nurses. This leads to fewer STNA classes, which must have a ratio of one to eight instructors to students.
Some companies organize their own STNA courses or have partnered with local training providers to organize courses at their sites. Shepherd has partnered with ETI Technical College in Niles by opening its Liberty site to host classes, Staebler says.
Inspira Health Group has hired a registered nurse to teach classes in-house, says Matt Cilone, director of human resources. Prospects take a two-week STNA course rather than the usual six weeks, so they don’t have to take the course elsewhere. Inspira also pays for their STNA test, he says.
“If you have a class of 10 and you get two or three good helpers, I think that’s a hit for us,” says Joe Cilone, president and owner of Inspira. “We typically hold a class every term at each location.”
A few common reasons STNAs may leave the field are that they are overwhelmed by the physical demands and long hours. Local providers do not deny that the work is physically demanding. But they find ways to work with their employees to maintain a work/life balance.
“They say it’s too much,” says Manolio of Briarfield. “It’s physical. Because some of these people have just been discharged from hospital and they need treatment.
To alleviate some of this workload, Briarfield relies on some STNAs to focus on particular tasks, such as showers or meals, as well as other hospitality helpers who can perform daily tasks, like answering a patient’s call or handing them their remote control if it’s out of reach.
“This kind of assistance is a big help for our nursing assistants,” says Reese.
In addition to recruiting new recruits through incentives, Briarfield strives to produce its own in-house STNAs and nurses. While Manolio has left his original position as a shower aide, Briarfield encourages other aides to grow within the company, Reese says.
Some 85% of Briarfield’s nursing staff started in front-line roles, says Amanda Rivera, the company’s director of human resources. Of its entire STNA staff, 30% have worked for Briarfield for at least five years, and 60% of that group have been with the company for more than a decade, she says.
To retain staff, employers offer incentives including shift bonuses, 401k with company matching, and schedule flexibility within reason.
“If they took advantage of everything, our STNAs would earn between $25 and $35 an hour,” explains Joe Cilone of Inspira. This includes company health insurance and the 401k, which it matches 4% for 5% set up.
Young STNAs don’t always take advantage, he says, including the 401k. Of the approximately 500 employees there, “we would be lucky if 100 took advantage of the 401k,” Cilone says. Yet he saw those same employees lured by competitors paying a dollar or two more an hour.
Limongi, from Shepherd of the Valley, says young workers are not as attracted to financial incentives. Some STNAs who arrive in the field expect it to be Monday to Friday work, he says, which is not the case.
“They don’t want to work weekends. They don’t want to work during the holidays. A lot of them want to work the day shift,” he says. “We have to manage our buildings 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, three shifts a day. We don’t have the luxury of having someone work Monday through Friday.
To meet employees halfway, Shepherd allows nurses to choose the days they work the last shifts and will schedule them every other weekend.
“It’s like we’re trying to make a partnership,” says Staebler. “Health care is extremely stressful and we understand that it needs their time, their mental health breaks as well as time with their loved ones and families.”
Shepherd also offers incentives for taking extra shifts, which was essential during the pandemic, she says.
So far, Shepherd’s efforts to attract and retain workers have worked well. The company holds two weekly orientation sessions for new hires and hired 92 in the first quarter, compared to 70 in the same period last year. Shepherd operates five locations, including its headquarters.
“It’s a great comeback. I hope this trend will continue,” says Staebler.
Pictured: Inspira Health Group has hired a registered nurse to teach STNA classes, says Matt Cilone, director of human resources. Behind him are Joey Cilone, Director, and Joe Cilone, President and Owner. Inspira previously operated as CHCC Companies.
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.