Home care providers face relentless pressure to recruit and retain workers, with many focused on the rising number of millennials entering the labor pool. But some providers are finding success by tapping into a different demographic: retirees.
“[Retirees] offer significant professional and personal experience that they can bring to the job,” Natasha Bryant, managing director and senior research associate at the LeadingAge LTSS Center at University of Massachusetts-Boston, told Home Health Care News. “They may be willing to work part-time and can fill these slots.”
Washington, D.C.-based LeadingAge is a trade association representing 6,000 providers — mostly nonprofits — that work in aging. The LTSS Center at UMass Boston conducts research designed to address and help with the challenges and seize the opportunities associated with the older population. The center has offices in Washington, D.C., and Boston.
Home care providers have been focused on recruiting retirees for some time. In the case of Cincinnati-based franchise company FirstLight, a concerted effort has been underway since 2014.
“We saw this opportunity developing,” Jeff Bevis, CEO at FirstLight Home Care, told HHCN. “[We] started recruiting specifically in senior centers and retirement communities for caregivers. We had caregivers at that time across the system who were over 65 … So, we thought that’s probably an un-accessed pocket of people you don’t typically think about from the workforce standpoint. We’ve been very pleased with the progress.”
FirstLight Home Care provides 100,000 hours per week of companion, personal and dementia care services to nearly 4,800 clients across more than 254 locations in 34 states. The company employs nearly 4,700 caregivers.
FirstLight was recently named one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc. magazine.
“I would say that these are very compassionate caregivers, not that our younger caregivers are not, but many of these folks over 65 have had their own health ailments [and] can better understand, better relate,” Bevis said. “There is almost a camaraderie, a connection there.”
Nearly 18% to 20% of FirstLight’s workforce is currently over 65.
“We don’t see a downside,” Bevis said. “We think these are great people, great matches for our clients,”
Pipeline problems, solutions
The overall and continued growth of the aging population is also a positive aspect of this worker pipeline.
Nearly 87% of adults over 65 years old want to stay in their current home and community as they age, according to an AARP survey from 2014. The need for more home care workers is ever-expanding.
Facilitating these work partnerships between home care agencies and retirees may be easy, though. Older workers do look for jobs in places where home care companies advertise, Bryant said. However, it is a taxing job on older people.
“It is important to understand the physical nature of the job,” Bryant said. “Therefore, an older worker needs significant training and support.”
For FirstLight, the physical demands upon caregivers hasn’t been a problem. But, it’s crucial to properly train and match the caregivers to the right clients.
“In other words, [don’t put] a 69-year-old caregiver with someone they have to lift every single day, I think that would be inviting a problem,” Bevis said.
Louisville-based BrightSpring Health, formerly ResCare, is another major home care provider that sees promise in hiring older workers. However, to successfully recruit and retain older adults, companies need to have the right scheduling flexibility and communication tools, according to Rexanne Domico, president of BrightSpring’s ResCare HomeCare and Rehab Without Walls NeuroSolutions divisions.
“You’ve got to have opportunities for that group that are different than for the 23-year-old who just finished CNA school,” Domico told Home Health Care News. “You’ve got to communicate with them differently … for the [new] CNA, we are communicating through smartphones. For the retiree, we’re also picking up the phone and calling, emailing, doing different things, meeting them where they are.”
Domico echoes Bevis, saying that the connection between older caregivers and clients can be especially meaningful.
“I was in South Carolina … and introduced myself to someone applying for a job. I asked, why us?” Domico said. “She said, I live in a 55-and-older community, and I really want to give back, to go out and help some people, I think I would be good at that. I thought that was really a testament.”
Retirees need to work
Nearly 40% of adults over the age of 55 were working or actively looking for work in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. And that number is projected to increase for the oldest segment of the population through 2024. There are many factors fueling the trend: better health and life expectancy, increased education and financial need.
Financially, baby boomers in particular are unprepared for retirement costs.
About 42% of baby boomers have no retirement savings, according to a 2018 study from the Insured Retirement Institute, a trade association for the retirement income industry. Only 25% of boomers believe they will have enough money for retirement. The problem is not unique to the United States. In Mexico, Starbucks is staffing a new location entirely with older adults, as part of an effort to bring more seniors into the workforce.
While finances may be a large piece of why retirees are continuing to work, finding overall fulfillment is reportedly important to many older adults as well. This is part of home care’s appeal to this group.
“[This job is] more of a community-minded benefit [for retirees] and it helps them have an activity, have more of a purpose — even if they have had a very successful career,” Bevis said. “More and more seniors don’t just want to ride off into the sunset, they want to stay active.”
Of those older adults nearing retirement or retired, about 80% said they want to make a meaningful impact in their communities, according to a survey from another major franchisor, Home Instead.
“Older workers are often looking for part-time work, particularly lower income [people] who need the job for economic security,” Bryant said.
Yet, while this pipeline may seem like a good solution, it may just be a temporary fix. A more permanent solution to turnover rates in the home care industry is providing better wages and working conditions, according to experts. For instance, with industry wages that have hardly risen in a decade, about 20% of these workers live in poverty, a point often tied to high turnover rates for home care agencies.
Written by Kaitlyn Mattson