There is a lot of room for creativity when it comes to managing workforce issues, especially now during a time long term and post-acute care (LT/PAC) providers are seeking new ideas to battle high turnover rates in an ultra-competitive job market.
Corey WrightOne of the more unique and successful providers at keeping staff onboard for long stretches is Vienna Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lodi, Calif., where longtime Administrator Corey Wright says good wages and solid benefit packages, along with attention to employee needs and facility upkeep, result in turnover rates as low as 5 percent in any given year.

The fact so many workers put down roots at Vienna has also played a role in making the facility a top-notch, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Five-Star Rating provider, ranking in the top 5 percent of facilities in California and in the top 10 percent of facilities nationwide for quality, the provider says.

Long-Term Rewards

Even though hard work is the recipe for success at Vienna, there is also a fun and interesting twist that puts the owners and managers in a special category of how to motivate employees to stay for the long term. Enter the conversation about cars and clocks.

Yes, Wright describes a program in place for decades and started by owner Kenneth Heffel (co-owner with wife Diane) that rewards each employee marking 25 years of service with a grandfather clock and for those logging 30 years a new car with a current monetary value of up to $35,000.

“If you can keep somebody for 30 years that is $1,000 a year. And, that is not that big of a deal when the payoff is that you get to keep somebody for that length of time, because what that does is it makes it great for our quality of care. They know our expectations [by staying longer],” he says. “Not having to constantly spend money on training is key.”

Through the years, Vienna has awarded some 16 cars to longtime workers and around 30 clocks, with the incentive a big deal to workers who have accumulated many years on the job.

Heffel came up with the idea 42 years ago, and Wright has kept the tradition going. Two cars were awarded this past September, and six people will be attaining their 30-year status within the next couple of years. “We are going to save our shekels to buy those cars,” Wright jokes.

Rewards Only Part of the Picture

Beyond the cars and clocks and the competitive compensation that keep Vienna’s 190 employees loyal, Wright says the fact the company provides a family atmosphere underpins his workforce success story. A traditional 150-bed skilled nursing facility with some rehab and short stays, the Heffel family has maintained the facility as independently owned and operated for 61 years.

“We don’t have a board of directors in a different state telling us what to do or looking over our shoulders. I have been the administrator for 31 years, so I think when you have stable ownership and stable management, people like that,” Wright says.

“We have been able to develop a culture in our facility that is really conducive to teamwork.”

Giving Workers the Right Tools

Part of that collaborative approach results in management making sure staff have the materials and supplies they need to get their jobs done, “because when you scrimp and try to save on that front, then staff are not happy.”

And, that philosophy runs the gamut from the nursing department to the ancillary departments, including the kitchen, the back office, and the activities and housekeeping operations.

There is also the facility’s look and upkeep that plays into a positive workforce, Wright says. “It is not just one thing that you do. It is a multitude of things,” he says. “We put a lot of money back into our infrastructure and our facility. We pride ourselves in making this place look really nice on the inside and the outside.”

Other best practices that seem to work for Vienna’s workforce include an attentive management team, where personal problems of employees are factored into staffing decisions. Keeping morale high is important considering the tough work that occurs in caring for the residents, he says. In that vein, Vienna is remodeling a 1,000-square-foot office into a new beauty salon/spa for patients and staff. There, special events like A Job Well Done and birthdays can be rewarded.

“This job is hard enough, and you get so much criticism at times and lack of thanks,” Wright says. “If we can make it better for staff day in and day out, I think we are that much further ahead.”