HEALTHTAC East 2024 Panel: Staffing Solutions — Recruiting

By Jim Nelson | March 25, 2024

Left to right, moderator Jim Nelson of Senior Living News; Brian Durbin of Arcadia Communities; Brady Kimber of Stellar Senior Living; and Michael Lopez of AlerisLife.

AMELIA ISLAND, FL — HEALTHTAC East 2024, a senior living-centered retreat at The Ritz-Carlton on this small island near Jacksonville, Florida, recently wrapped up. With HEALTHTAC being the sister company of Senior Living News, SLN Editor Jim Nelson moderated four panels during the two-plus-day retreat.

The first of those panels explored several ways in which three senior-living executives have successfully turned their hiring around over the past year.

“I would say the last six to eight months we’ve seen a lot more positivity in the number of vacant positions across the company,” said Brian Durbin, president of Arcadia Communities. “We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about who we are, what our story is, and talking about our culture, our vision, and our values, and in doing so I think many of those messages have resonated with candidates. I think we have, across the company, five open positions right now, out of 500 employees and nine communities. And that is the best that it’s been in a long time.”

“It is becoming a little easier for us to fill vacant positions, maybe only with the exception of clinical roles,” said Stellar Senior Living Director of Human Resources Brady Kimber. “I think looking into the future we’ll see staffing shortages with nursing, and we’d love to see more nurses enter the field, but as a whole, I think it’s safe to say that it’s becoming a little easier for us to fill those vacant positions.”

AlerisLife, which includes Five Star Senior Living and Ageility, has dropped its unfulfilled positions over the last couple of years from 28% down to 9%; Michael Lopez, AlerisLife’s SVP/chief operating & people officer, spotlighted the reasons for this positive trend.

“At Five Star Senior Living and Ageility fitness and rehab last year we filled about 8,500 roles, so there’s a lot of volume,” he said. “Overall, there were three things we needed to do: The Five Star brand needed to be refreshed so we really took a look at what makes us unique and special. We had people first as this value, but we really weren’t loudly and proudly going out to candidates about how we bring that to life through the employment experience. So, we completely refreshed our value proposition for our candidate, and for our internal team because they’re our biggest advocates.

“Number two,” he continued, “was the candidate journey. We map from hello to hire, and oh, gosh, there was no shortage of friction points in the process where people were dropping out. So, there were a number of key things we needed to do there.

“And only once we had the first two pieces nailed,” Lopez concluded, “could we then employ some of these really cool social tactics, storytelling tactics, to drive more applicant flow.”

During the panel Stellar Senior Living’s Kimber shared his company’s recruiting message.

“We’ve really considered what is our unique value proposition to our employees,” he said. “There are some things innately that we’ve found as an organization that have really helped us attract great talent, one of which is our culture — we truly are a value-based organization. Anytime we bring prospective candidates to our corporate office or to one of our communities, they walk away talking about how great our culture is. So, we’ve really tried to highlight that as a means of attracting top talent. It’s been really effective so far just to tell that story of who we are as an organization — that it’s not all about profit, it really is about the people, not only the residents that we serve, but our fellow employees as well. That’s a strategy that’s been a great boon for our organization.”

A recent Senior Living News Staffing Solutions article discussed the importance of being very active on social media, a notion that Durbin underscored with a jaw-dropping story about one of Arcadia’s communities.

“Social media is a part of all of our lives in so many ways,” he said, “and I think any time that you can promote and resonate your message and your story out there — whether it’s through LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook — from simple things like great, bright, vibrant pictures of the meal that you served last evening to engagement and various things that go on day to day in your community, those things start to create a story of the good things that go on in a community every day. Any time you’re promoting those types of messages and getting them out there through the various social media channels, I think it can be a positive. I was a slow adopter to TikTok, but that was until the Super Bowl two years ago when Rihanna did her famous Super Bowl dance and two young ladies that work in our Arcadia Senior Living Bowling Green community gathered some residents and recreated Rihanna’s dance. Seventy-five million hits later, and flowers delivered from Jay-Z and Rihanna, personal letters, and Fox and Friends, CBS This Morning, the Sunday shows all picked this up, I understood the power of TikTok. Those ladies are now famous in Bowling Green, Kentucky. They love it, their families love it. That community has been 100% ever since and we’ve got a list of applicants. It created such a positive impression of fun, of values, of culture, of uniqueness, and of a great lifestyle that it just hit like wildfire. It’s been amazing what that’s meant for that community and for our company.”

“What I love about that story,” Lopez commented, “is you didn’t plan it. The magic happened at the community. Sometimes in the corporate office we think, ‘It’s got to be approved by marketing and it’s got to take second fiddle to the sales-generating messages that are going out, but if you do it right, that actually conveys the story ‘great place to work is a great place to live’ in a way that only the community can do. It’s inspiring.”

At this point, Durbin shared an Arcadia recruiting tool called “I Think You’d be Great” cards.

“I was at a small community we have in Western Kentucky,” he told the audience at HEALTHTAC East, “and our executive director said, ‘There’s a famous little barbecue restaurant and I was there last night, and this waitress was the best. We happen to be hiring for a waitress in our dining room. This lady had every skill that I want; she was friendly, outgoing, just everything that you could want.’ And it got us talking, ‘What can we do when we are in a place that we see that person? We came up with the ‘I Think You’d be Great’ card. It’s got that [phrase] on the front, and it’s got all of our information and what we’re looking for. Again, it’s all messaging; we’re looking for great people with terrific attitudes to enhance the lives of seniors. And that resonates with people that have that mission in their heart. We’ve had them printed out for everybody in our company to be able to distribute, and if that individual that they came across happens to come work for us, there’s an incentive for the person that gave them the card. And it’s really been crazy how many people have brought those back. We’ve hired some really good people that love the mission of serving others.”

Another method that has helped our panelists’ companies recruit is doubling back to people who they didn’t hire or who left their employ for whatever reason.

“Through our applicant tracking system we will frequently revisit people who have applied because finding a job or a career path is sometimes, if not always, about timing,” said Stellar’s Kimber, “so we will frequently revisit those applicant pools and look at the finalists and invite them to reapply, tell them we’ve got a specific position that meets their profile. And we’ve received a lot of good talent from taking that approach.”

“We went to leavers — folks who left us — and we’ve had 20% of those communications respond in someone saying, ‘I’d be interested in talking again,’” said Lopez of AlerisLife. “That’s a great ROI.”


Jim Nelson

Jim Nelson is the Editor at Senior Living News, an online trade publication featuring curated news and exclusive feature stories on changes, trends, and thought leaders in the senior living industry. He has been a writer and editor for 30+ years, including several years as an editor and managing editor. Jim covers the senior living sector for SeniorLivingNews.com, distributes its e-newsletter, and moderates panel discussions for the company’s HEALTHTAC events.

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