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Food Services Workers Disproportionately Put Out of Work Due to Covid-19 Could be Redeployed to Fill Vital Senior Care Employment Needs

By Scott Phillips

Long-term care facilities, which have long struggled with staffing shortages, could be the answer for food and hospitality service workers in need of immediate and long-term stable employment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To curb the spread of the virus, hundreds of thousands of food service and hospitality workers have lost their jobs, as government-mandated shutdowns of restaurants, bars and non-essential businesses were issued to enforce social distancing policies. Even when shelter-in-place mandates are over, it stands to reason many restaurants will not reopen and their resurgence will take time.

The pool of workers who have been displaced by this pandemic is growing with New York’s Union Square Hospitality Group laying off about 80% of its workforce and nearly 6.65 million Americans filing for unemployment in the past two weeks. This number is expected to continue to increase, as the national response to coronavirus strengthens resulting in more COVID-19-related layoffs.

The need for long-term care workers is on the rise, as the direct care workforce is projected to add more than 1.3 million new jobs between 2018 and 2028 according to PHI, an association for long-term care workers. This projection doesn’t yet take into consideration the number of jobs needed now during this pandemic. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this growth rate is faster than the average for all occupations. An additional 6.9 million direct care jobs will also need to be filled during that time as existing workers leave the field or exit the workforce.

Senior care facilities have an opportunity to both meet an emerging need and fill the ever-growing gap in quality staffing, while simultaneously providing employment for those whose jobs were cut to protect our healthcare delivery system and the most vulnerable in our society. These facilities can offer workers steady full-time or part-time shifts and the opportunity to receive certifications in specialized areas of care during this interim.

Long-term care work can be an attractive option for workers looking to build upon their skills. Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) are an ideal starting point for food service and hospitality workers looking to pursue a career in long-term care. CNAs assist patients with daily living activities that require the same level of attention to detail needed in the hospitality and food service industries.

Traditionally, CNA certification requires participants to enroll in local programs, complete a state-approved education course and competency exam. As the national response to COVID-19 increases, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has relaxed its CNA licensure requirements during the pandemic, making it easier for new staffers to begin assisting residents and patients with care.

CMS is also removing requirements that mandated specific state licensure. While not permanent, these relaxed regulations will expedite the process of becoming a CNA, allowing staff members to gain new skills quickly and putting them on a direct path towards more employment opportunities.

There is an opportunity for senior care facilities to act fast to match displaced hospitality and food service workers with senior care and health care jobs that will utilize their skills and allow them to thrive professionally.

Food service and hospitality workers already possess many of the same skills that are needed to be successful in senior care delivery. At the core of these industries is the need for exceptional customer service and ability to work to and meet standards. Just as these workers strive to give customers a premier dining experience, long-term care workers seek to provide residents with high-quality care and comfort. Likewise, both occupations require a strong attention to detail, cleanliness and hygiene, an eye for presentation and the ability to think quickly and problem-solve.

These foundational skills can translate well into care-based settings and will maintain operations as new personnel receive more job-specific training.

Providers looking to hire new staff and retain current employees should offer evenhanded scheduling and the option for split shifts, to ensure that staff is getting proper rest and residents’ needs are being met.

Providers should also consider digital avenues to bolster recruitment. Building a communication with local hospitality union groups could provide opportunities to offer digital ads directly with that workforce. Hosting a digital job fair will also give prospective candidates an opportunity to learn more about the benefits of working in a long-term care setting and ask questions about the industry.

Increasing care connectivity through telehealth options will better utilize staff and be attractive to hospitality workers looking for new employment opportunities. Telehealth systems that allow for residents to receive virtual clinical visits will mitigate exposure to bacteria and viruses and give staff extra time to complete their workloads. When time is of the essence for residents and staff, virtual visits deliver on both fronts.

As senior care facilities cater to those who are most vulnerable to this virus, they have a responsibility to help the food service and hospitality workers whose jobs and welfare were sacrificed to protect the healthcare delivery system. Hiring restaurant and hospitality workers wherever possible is a way to both meet an industry need and help those who have great skills and need opportunities.

About the Author: Scott Phillips is the Founder and Managing Director of Healthcare Management Partners (HMP), a leading turnaround and consulting firm in the healthcare industry. He also works closely HMP Senior Solutions, which takes on operational management and leadership of senior care facilities. In recent years, Phillips has served as the Chairman and CEO of an investor-owned healthcare provider with operations in 15 states and CEO of multiple hospitals and senior care providers. Together with his son Josh, he is also an owner of three restaurants based in Washington, D.C., which were ordered to cease in-house operations on March 16.