Home Care Agencies Turn to New Mentorship Pilot for Staffing Support

U.S. home care agencies got better at keeping their workers in 2019, slashing the industry-wide turnover rate by nearly 20%. With the tide turning in the hiring market, most organizations are hoping to further improve upon that mark in 2020.

Backed by the New York State Association of Health Care Providers, an innovative group of home care agencies in the Empire State is now hoping to accomplish that goal through mentorship.

“We are trying to address recruitment and retention issues in the home care workforce,” Kathy Febraio, president and CEO of the association’s Community Healthcare Services Foundation (CHC), told Home Health Care News. “As we all know, there are incredible challenges in recruiting new people into home care, then retaining them once they’re hired.”

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Founded in 1989, CHC is a nonprofit affiliate of the New York State Association of Health Care Providers that’s dedicated to home care education, research and support. At the start of June, CHC launched a new peer-to-peer mentorship pilot program with six different agencies located throughout the state.

The pilot is funded by the Iroquois Healthcare Association and its workforce investment program, which focuses on training, recruiting and retaining workers in the long-term care space.

“Turnover really begins to impact an agency’s ability to plan ahead and to strategize,” Febraio said. “It also impacts their ability to provide consistent patient care.”

Through the mentorship pilot, each participating agency will identify eight in-home care workers who stand out in their jobs. After receiving special training, those mentors will then help guide and support new hires through their first 90 days of employment — the most critical time period in the retention battle.

Johnstown-based Home Health Care Partners and Brooklyn-based Summit Home Care are among the home care agencies that signed up for the CHC pilot.

Both agencies have struggled with retention in the past, with the COVID-19 crisis presenting further challenges in recent months.

“We are seeing a shrinking of the home care workforce,” Home Health Care Partners Executive Director Karen Clark told HHCN. “We don’t have as many people to hire as we did in years past. Before, I can remember having interviews with three or four people and selecting maybe one or two. Now, providers are maybe interviewing one or two people and not always finding the best fit, but still trying to make it work.”

Established in 1996, Home Health Care Partners is a licensed home care agency with an average census that’s usually around 100 patients. Owned by two area hospitals, the nonprofit provides a range of in-home services across 10 counties, from 24-hour skilled nursing care to more basic companion care.

Founded in 2006, Summit Home Care — also a licensed home care agency — normally has a patient census of about 800. That figure has dropped in recent months, however, due to the public’s COVID-19 concerns.

“We’ve really lost a lot of market share through COVID,” Susan Katz, CEO and owner of Summit Home Care, told HHCN.

A recruitment tool

While the home care mentorship pilot is designed as a retention tool, Katz, Clark and Febraio believe it may help with recruiting as well.

That’s especially valuable in New York, where the state’s Department of Labor is projecting the demand for home health aides to grow by more than 50% by 2025.

“We’re hoping it becomes a recruitment tool,” Febraio said. “‘If you come to work for this particular agency, here’s a great program they have to get you started.’ A prospective hire will know that agency is dedicated to making sure you’re comfortable and to giving you the support and infrastructure you need in the field.”

There’s arguably never been a more important time for home care agencies to strengthen their recruitment tactics.

Since the start of the COVID-19 emergency, more than 40 million people have filed for unemployment benefits. Many of those individuals previously worked in the retail or restaurant sectors, which are often direct hiring competition for home care agencies.

“There are opportunities here where other segments of the economy are drying up,” Febraio said. “You’ve got the retail sector, the restaurant sector and others. We don’t know yet if the jobs are going to come back. This may be an important recruitment opportunity for home care agencies to find those individuals who want to care for others, who want to be part of the solution in this pandemic.”

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