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How To Attract & Retain Nurses In Senior Care

How To Attract & Retain Nurses In Senior CareFor people considering careers in nursing, now is the perfect time to make the move. It’s a rewarding, fast-paced industry with plenty of jobs available.

Nursing is a growth industry. Employment of RNs is expected to increase 15% between 2016 and 2026, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That should be good news for a senior care industry that needs to recruit and retain 300,000 new employees by 2026 to meet future demand.

However, it’s not such an optimistic narrative for those that employ nurses, namely senior care organizations, who find themselves competing for nurses amongst themselves and with larger health care providers. In fact, recent research found that 75% of nursing homes are almost never in compliance with the staffing levels set by CMS. So, while the industry waits for this influx of nurses to occur, with fingers crossed they choose to work in senior care, retaining the nurses they have on hand should be priority one.

The Cost Of The Nursing Shortage

Conservative estimates of turnover across the long-term care industry range from 45% to 66%, according to research from the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI). This research counts hourly and salaried employees in its figures. While it’s costly to replace a lost employee, it’s especially costly to replace nurses. That’s in part because the competition for capable nurses is at its most heated in a generation.

It costs between $22,000 to over $64,000 to replace a registered nurse, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Attracting, training and retaining RNs and other quality staff will save money, long term.

Retaining capable and qualified nurses will also help providers establish a positive workplace culture that can be leveraged to attract new talent, while empowering employees with a voice in operations and management.

Tips For Attracting & Retaining Nurses

A 2017 report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing’s Center for Aging Research and Education (CARE) highlighted ways to attract and retain nurses, and some providers have had success with additional approaches within their organizations.

Here are a few of the ways those in senior care can work to attract and retain nursing staff: 

Integrate staff. Gurwin Jewish, a nursing home, retirement and rehabilitation community in Commack, New York, took the top spot in Forbes and Great Places to Work’s Best Workplaces for Aging List last year. President and CEO Stewart Almer told Skilled Nursing News last October that employee empowerment begins with greater staff integration between its care levels.

Almer established joint meetings between nurses at Gurwin Jewish’s assisted living and nursing facilities, which resulted in a higher census for the community and internal employee satisfaction.


Learn what it takes to make Great Places to Work’s Best Workplaces for Aging List.


Create orientation programs. Establishing a strong orientation program tied to nurse retention can be an effective way to prevent nursing turnover, the UW-Madison research stated.

Start slow. Starting new nurses with lighter workloads, then gradually increasing their responsibilities was also recommended by UW-Madison.

Value mentorships. Establish a mentorship program with regular feedback and an emphasis on fostering a team culture, UW-Madison recommends.

How To Attract & Retain Nurses In Senior Care

Offer continuing education. Some providers are beginning to offer continuing education and better benefits to retain staff. Kathy Hehl Curran, a nurse for 36 years at Filosa’s Hancock Hall, a nursing home in Danbury, Connecticut, told Forbes in June her employer allowed her to continue her education while working. This gave her the flexibility to move to several different jobs within Hancock Hall, instead of moving to another provider to gain those opportunities.

UW-Madison’s nursing school developed an online residency program for nurses entering the senior living and long-term care industry called Geri-Res, which offers custom-made training programs for assisted living, home health and nursing homes.

Attic Angel Place, an assisted living community in Middleton, Wisconsin, piloted the Geri-Res nursing home track and found the nursing staff interacted with each other more, and helped new nurses build their skills and confidence.

Recruiting & Retaining Directors Of Nursing (DONs) In Senior Care

Of course, the tips above are all for naught if you don’t have the right managers in place. The stats say it all: One in two people have left a job to get away from their manager, and disengaged managers, which lead to disengaged employees and high turnover, are costing employers up to $96 billion annually. Ensuring your leaders are engaged and satisfied is a critical component of retaining employees.

So, what do today’s DONs want? Ultimately, to dedicate the majority of their time performing leadership duties. They want the tools and technology to streamline tasks, curb tedious paperwork and help them spend more time on the floor, mentoring and coaching employees and working with the residents.

OnShift gives DONs and other senior care managers the time back in their day to do just that.

  • OnShift Text2Hire automates the interview process with the use of artificial intelligence, dramatically reducing time-to-hire and leading to two times the candidates in half the time.

  • OnShift Engage helps nurse leaders engage staff with automated rewards and recognition, pulse satisfaction surveys with the opportunity to leave feedback and offer ideas for process improvements.

  • OnShift Schedule allows nurse managers to create schedules in seconds with reusable master templates, fill call-offs fast and automatically approve shift requests from employees not at risk for overtime.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what DONs using OnShift are saying:

“OnShift makes it possible for me to stay informed with current and important staffing data. The staffing software is quick, clear and easy-to-use. Instead of staff calling in to check on their schedule, a quick look online will answer their questions. The valuable time saved for our staff is amazing. It provides more personal time for wellness and staying balanced. Above all else, time saved equates to quality of care delivery. Our residents are the recipients of even greater positive outcomes.”​ - Lynn Ensinger, DON, Kendal at Oberlin

“Resolving a call off used to take me 2+ hours, now with OnShift it takes 5 minutes of my time.”​ - Rose Anderson, DON, Friendship Village​

Looking To The Future

With even more demand for health care workers including nurses in the coming years, it is likely that attracting and retaining these professionals will become more challenging for senior care providers. By making a concerted effort to mentor, develop and foster professional growth among nurses, the challenge can be less daunting for those recruiting and managing nurses in the years ahead. 

I encourage you to take a tour of OnShift's suite of software for yourself! 

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