Working as a healthcare provider in a skilled nursing facility is rarely easy. The pace is intense, the hours long, and the work emotionally and physically draining. The rate of turnover in the sector is notoriously high; in 2012, median turnover for SNFs overall stood at 44%, and the churn for certified nursing assistants, in particular, was 52%. Many would-be nursing employees step a foot into the workday, see the breadth of the work, and hop right back out in search of an easier job.


I’ve been active in the long-term care industry for nearly three decades now, and I don’t think I’ll ever be fully able to express the value of the people who choose to stay. My care network, Reliant Care Management, provides services to over 2,500 long-term residents; many of the residents who live in Reliant’s facilities struggle with complex behavioral and mental conditions that make treating them effectively a challenge. Every day, our care providers ensure that residents are treated with care and compassion, despite the stress and pressure that I know the job entails. I need them to stay – and I can’t thank them enough for stepping up to the plate.


That said, appreciation alone can only ever go so far. If staffers aren’t adequately supported in their day-to-day work, they will leave for less intensive positions. Besides the immediate staffing concern, their absence also imposes a significant financial burden on the organization; a recent policy report published by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute estimates that the direct cost of replacing a nursing assistant or care worker is $2,200 per person. Worse, some studies indicate that in taking on less-qualified staffers to close the employee shortfall could worsen a facility’s quality of care overall. As one researcher framed the problem in a recent whitepaper, a “lack of experienced RNs has been shown to decrease the quality of care, negatively impact resident outcomes [and contribute to] to escalating health care costs.”


Cycling through continually less-qualified caretakers is both more expensive and less effective for a facility and its residents than maintaining an engaged employee base. SNF operators need to be perpetually on the lookout for ways to better support and show appreciation for their staffers. For some, this might mean going on periodic team retreats to allow for relaxation and recovery; for others, a solution might be to give individuals breaks when they express feelings of burnout. In my experience, I’ve found well-integrated mentorship programs to be highly effective.


Having a formal interpersonal support structure in an SNF is invaluable. When implemented effectively, they enhance staff knowledge and trust, contribute to continuing employee education, bolster retention, and improve the quality of care for residents. Mentors naturally develop into supportive leaders, giving newly-hired caretakers the support they need to find their footing in the high-pressure LTC environment. Moreover, by improving communication channels and knowledge-sharing habits, mentoring programs can improve risk awareness and empower employees to cut down on potentially harmful resident occurrences. This not only enhances a facility’s ability to provide a high quality of care but also decreases liability concerns and empowers staffers to become more knowledgeable and confident caretakers.


I am certain that we wouldn’t be able to achieve what we have at Reliant’s facilities if we didn’t have mentorship programs in place.


Our philosophy is simple; we believe that everyone deserves to be loved. Our LTC centers take in everyone they can, regardless of residents’ physical or mental illnesses; in fact, we often accept those that other organizations have turned down. We want to take care of them – but the nature of our accepting philosophy often means that our resident base is uniquely challenging to treat. The care strategies we use in-house have been developed and accumulated during our twenty years of operation; they can’t be picked up in an afternoon class or special workshop. Instead, they need to be passed down from mentor to mentee in a self-perpetuating cycle of supportive learning.


I’ll provide an example.


The other day, I was working out of one of Reliant’s facilities when I saw a resident undergo a behavioral episode. He was upset and beginning to lash out, worrying nearby residents. In another facility, he might have been immediately and physically restrained and removed from the room – but in a matter of minutes, an aide had managed to intervene and de-escalate the tense situation. Within a half hour later, he was smiling and talking cheerfully again. If that intervening aide had been recently out of school and uncertain of himself, he might not have been able to handle the episode. However, because he had learned how to navigate complex and unexpected outbursts from his organization mentors, he could react effectively and with confidence. With a mentor, employees can share proven strategies and feel supported even amid the stress and pressure SNFs inevitably bring to bear.


I value mentorship programs not only for the benefit they bring to the organization but also for the emotional and professional support they afford to individuals. We need to retain talented staffers, yes – and we need to make sure they have the knowledge they need to do their jobs well. But at the end of the day, it’s also our responsibility to make sure that their emotional needs are also respected and met. Mentorship programs allow us to care for our employees as humans, rather than just assets – and for that, I will always stand behind them.