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Wichita nursing homes face challenges finding qualified applicants

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017 2:22:30 PM

Wichita Business Journal

By Josh Heck

Hiring for long-term care facilities can be challenging. It requires finding people who not only have appropriate health care training and skill sets, but also experience providing skilled, long-term care, say those charged with making personnel decisions.

The Wichita Business Journal asked operators of local nursing home facilities about their biggest hiring challenges, and findings qualified applicants was the oft-cited concern.

For ComfortCare Homes Inc., its hiring challenges involve finding qualified people who have experience working with individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Doug Stark, ComfortCare’s president, says his business places extra emphasis on training because there are so few people who have the exact skill set the company needs.

It’s an expensive proposition, too, but it’s necessary to ensure ComfortCare has a properly trained work force, Stark says.

“We can’t just hire five people and hope that three of them work out,” Stark says. “We want to be certain that that person will be a good long-term fit.”

ComfortCare mostly hires people who are certified medication aides – a special designation that is required for those who administer routine medications in nursing home settings, under the supervision of a registered nurse – so finding people with that certification or those who are willing to get it can be a challenge.

Stark estimates ComfortCare spends around $2,100 per person in the acquisition of talent. That factors in placing help-wanted ads through completion of ComfortCare’s 50-hour training session, which is spread out over 10 days.

That course covers basic things like infection control, and then incorporates the more specialized training that is required for people who work with dementia patients. Stark says the added training teaches caregivers about resident’s rights, preventing neglect and abuse and how to handle situations where patients become combative or refuse to eat or take their medication.

“We have to carry everything beyond what happens in a traditional setting,” Stark says.

Angie Lee, ComfortCare’s director of resident care, developed the company’s training program. She is a certified dementia trainer under the National Council of Certified Practitioners.

Hiring is a high priority for Stark right now as the company prepares for the 20 or so jobs that will be created with the addition of its Founders Crest advanced dementia care facility in March. Most of those will be new hires, but some will relocate from other ComfortCare facilities, leaving vacancies elsewhere.

A new round of training for new employees started on Monday.

Finding the right fit

Other nursing home operators face similar hiring challenges.

Mark Schulte, executive director of Wichita Presbyterian Manor, says hiring workers for long-term care settings is difficult because those facilities often are competing for the same workers that hospitals, doctor’s offices and rehabilitation facilities are.

“There’s always going to be a challenge to find qualified workers because there are so many other health care entities,” Schulte says.

Fred Hermes, president of Axiom Healthcare Services, says finding nurses or nurses aides who have worked in long-term care setting is his company’s biggest challenge. Axiom is a standalone company that oversees the operations of senior-living facilities owned by Wichita’s Physicians Development Group, which Hermes is also a partner in.

Hermes says nursing homes also have a difficult regulatory environment, and making sure potential hires understand those rules can be challenging.

Hermes, like ComfortCare’s Stark, says nursing home operators can offset some of those skill-set shortfalls through additional training.

Hermes says there are people in the Wichita area who have at least some of the skills that nursing home operators are looking for, it sometimes takes longer to find them.

jheck@bizjournals.com / 316-266-6172

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