Everyone who cares, or needs care, should care deeply about this injustice.
To the point: Patient care providers, the actual frontline personnel in assisted living communities and skilled nursing centers, are being exploited. Their job responsibilities cover everything from ensuring patient safety and assisting with activities of daily living; to attending to such intimacies as calming despair and changing adult diapers. For this challenging, compassionate and trustful work, care providers or nurse assistants (or certified nurse assistants, a common job classification) are rewarded with average salaries of $9-13 per hour, barely above minimum wage.
Aging services operations have historically high turnover rates, attributed to the prevalence of low paying jobs. Estimates for staff turnover for certified nurse assistants, for example, average 42 percent, according to an instructive article in McKnight’s Long-term Care News (3-31-14) by human resources professional David Peasall.
Staff turnover is costly, beyond the obvious employee training expenses. HR professionals identify a number of indirect costs such as lost productivity; lesser quality of care by untrained replacements; disrupted continuity of care; lost client relationships and revenues; deterioration of employee morale; even increases in on-the-job injuries due to inadequate staffing and poorly trained staff.
Lower wage earners are known to switch jobs for as little as 15 cents per hour ($26 per month), which makes a difference to workers living paycheck to paycheck.
However, as Peasall notes, “frontline workers, wherever they are on the pay scale, are the face and heart of the organization, developing and maintaining the relationships that contribute so heavily to resident and family satisfaction.”
The problem and the solution to this injustice are two sides of the same coin. Resident and patient care staff in assisted living and skilled nursing warrant higher compensation. Until this occurs, high turnover rates will continue, as will the deleterious effects on the frontline and bottom line of the aging services providers.
But, speaking of coinage, here’s the rub. The chief executives of major aging services corporations, including the nonprofit organizations, collect high six-figure annual salaries. In fact, some rake in upwards of $1 million in compensation and bonuses, according to Guidestar.org, the largest online source of information on nonprofit organizations.
As is and will always be the case, employees at the bottom of the pay scale argue they deserve more; while those at the top argue they deserve what they get. Guess who wins. Yet, it doesn’t take a CFO to do the math on how to more efficiently and justly redistribute salaries.
If you or a family member is planning a move to assisted living or skilled nursing, it would be worth asking about frontline caregiver turnover rates and pay. And then compare CEO compensation on Guidestar. If something smells, move on. Most likely, there are more caring providers down the street.
Illustration by Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution