Service Industry, Surgical Center Layoffs Help Bolster Home-Based Care Workforce

While the coronavirus initially caused a dip in demand for home-based care services, many have characterized that period as the calm before the storm. Since then, the need for in-home care has picked up quickly, with several providers telling Home Health Care News they’re receiving more inbound requests than ever before.

Inquiries are pouring in from all kinds of new sources, from hospitals looking to discharge fairly acute patients to free up beds to senior living facilities asking home-based care providers to help them backfill staffing shortages.

Amid the increased demand, the question becomes: How can providers, who have historically struggled with workforce shortages, keep up from a labor-supply perspective? The answer could lie in the record number of Americans who have lost their jobs or been furloughed as a result of the coronavirus.

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In fact, many home-based care providers have already had luck supplementing their existing labor pools with jobless workers from that group.

“No disrespect intended, but because the labor markets have eased quite a bit, unfortunately due to layoffs, we are not seeing as much of a challenge on the labor side,” FirstLight Home Care CEO and co-founder Jeff Bevis told Home Health Care News.

To keep up with growing demand, the national in-home care franchiser based in Cincinnati, Ohio, has hired 450 to 500 new caregivers per week over the past several weeks, Bevis told HHCN. Many of those new hires have backgrounds in retail or food service.

Home-based care has increasingly competed with those service industries for workers over the past five years. But oftentimes, providers lose the fight, with many caregivers leaving for less stressful, equal-paying jobs in retail or food service.

It’s a point Dirk Allison, CEO of Addus HomeCare Corp. (Nasdaq: ADUS), highlighted in 2018 during the Jefferies Global Healthcare Conference.

“[Increasing wages are] really, probably, the biggest issue we face today in growth,” Allison said, noting how Addus used to be able to compete with the fast food and retail spaces before state-mandated minimum wage increases became more common. “It was just the way the industry was structured, which made it easier for us to hire folks, as opposed to, say, [them] going to Chick-fil-A or Walmart down the road and getting minimum wage.”

Recently, losing out to the Chick-fil-As of the world has been less of a problem, according to Bevis.

“That’s where we’ve always been recruiting in the past,” he said. “It’s just that we’ve got many more [candidates] to choose from now with some people being laid off.”

In turn, the additional workforce is helping FirstLight Home Care keep up with a “rapid rise” in new client requests.

“[That’s] with existing clients increasing hours, and then especially more and more requests from both existing and new senior living relationships, too,” Bevis said.

Before the coronavirus hit, extremely tight labor markets made competition for workers fierce. In December, the U.S. unemployment rate hit 3.5%, the lowest it had been in 50 years.

But in the past six weeks, about 30 million people have filed for unemployment, with some experts predicting the jobless rate could reach 20% by June — a percentage the country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. Some geographic markets have been drastically affected, including Los Angeles County, where less than half of residents reported having jobs in an April survey.

While layoffs are happening across nearly every industry, hospitality and retail have been hit the worst, creating opportunities for non-medical home care agencies to target those who have lost their jobs.

And with non-essential surgeries down, plenty of medical personnel are out of work, too. Caring People — a New York City-based at-home care agency that operates in five states — is working to get those folks back on a payroll.

“There’s availability there because all these surgical centers are closed,” Caring People CEO and President Steven East told HHCN. “They typically were employing licensed practical nurses (LPNs), so we have a lot of LPNs applying to work.”

Those new hires have helped the agency keep up with the demand for workers being requested by senior living facilities.

While Caring People doesn’t have a designated staffing arm, it recently started negotiating contracts with such communities to supplement their workforces and is now engaged with 40 to 50 communities in that capacity.

Like FirstLight, it’s also hiring non-medical workers who have been laid off from service industries. It’s just another way to keep up with the influx in inbound requests for services.

“[A couple weeks ago,] we had the highest number of new client inquiries that I’ve ever had in the history of Caring People,” East said. “And I started the company over 20 years ago.”

Although the labor market is more robust for home-based care providers, hiring challenges certainly still remain.

In many places, for example, home-based care workers have to go through rigorous background checks before delivering care in the home. Currently, many of the third-party organizations that carry out those checks are closed, causing speed bumps in the hiring process.

Additionally, while it may be easier to find workers, recently implemented unemployment benefits also mean it’s easier to lose them in some cases.

Sunrise, Florida-based Interim HealthCare Inc. has seen that problem play out in about 10 of its franchise locations, CEO Jennifer Sheets previously told HHCN.

“We’ve seen that in pockets, where people have requested that we lay them off,” Sheets said.

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