“Danger Will Roberstson! Danger!!” Widespread labor shortages and stiff competition are making hiring good employees for Senior Living Communities challenging and it will likely get worse. “By 2025 we’ll be short over a million caregivers in the system. So, where are those people going to come from? That’s a big issue,”  Randy Richardson, President of Vi, told Senior Housing News.

“Danger Will Robinson, Danger!!”

Quality Senior Housing Staff 

Senior Housing is an industry highly dependent on quality care from employees. Desperate employers are sometimes less selective than they should be. Are there steps you can take today to help guard against a future dependency on sub-par care?

What do you want first?

We see many senior housing communities across the country. Can you guess where we’ve found the best quality senior housing staff?

Bad news. New architecture is not a good predictor of staff quality. The oldest facility was our best personal experience. The nicest building, our worst staff experience. We see similar varied results as we travel, tour, and review.

Good news. Our experience tells us there are some exceptionally well-trained staffers that fulfill their organizations’ positive guiding principles.


But staffing is fluid. Even if you locate a wonderful community, with excellent staff, management and personnel change.  Quality staffers don’t always stick around.

Live in a retirement community for many years. Or talk to someone who has. Longevity makes the quality senior housing staff an important consideration.  Staff can make or break your experience. And unfortunately, there are some poor employees. With attitudes. Negative attitudes.

quality senior housing staff

Fish Head
There’s an old saying that a fish rots from the head down. The administrator of the locally-owned and operated independent living apartments was charming as a salesperson. After move-in? Might as well be a body-snatcher given the transformation. Now? Passive-aggressive, controlling, and dishonest. Every family member has a “Mabel” story (named-changed to protect the guilty). She plays games with meal orders for visitors and discourages family members from visiting or interacting with residents. She blames residents for maintenance issues that clearly predated current occupants. She publicly berates residents for poor memory. Her convenience and connivance is her first priority, not resident-centered care or caring. Her stories or excuses change. She retaliates for any expressions of concern or advocacy. We don’t trust her numbers. Errors are random, not always and exclusively in favor of management.

Total Control

The total environmental control exercised by senior living communities creates the potential for physical, emotional, and financial abuse by staff.

How do you guard against this situation when you first select the community? Remember it is only going to become more of challenge in upcoming years. High-quality senior housing staff is a necessity for a community to succeed.

We offer five steps to protect your future or your parent’s future before committing.

Track Record, Training, and Access

  1. Begin by selecting a quality operator with a good track record. Quality operators have checks and balances so no one staff member has unfettered control or influence.

Quality operators train staff and filter for personalities or behaviors that are warning signs of the potential for abuse. Ask to see the continuing education training offered to the staff.

It’s necessary. The wrong people, poorly trained, and poorly supervised can do a lot of damage.

Look for how easily the operator makes contacting senior management with concerns about local staff. Can you escalate as appropriate? Can you easily jump around road blocks to appeal to higher authority? The operator should encourage easy access to feedback, providing e-mail and phone numbers to go around local stone walls.

Resident Council?

  1. Limit your search to communities with a resident council and ideally a resident council with a representative on the community’s governing board. It is also important to avoid a stagnant resident council. Members should change on a one to three-year cycle. We also think the resident council should be representative, including especially both men and women. When the majority of residents are women, it’s a concern if governance or oversight is entirely male.

Resident councils are typically staffed by employees. So take meeting minutes with a grain of salt. Meeting minutes can be what the staff said the residents said. In other words, they can be whitewashed of controversy or criticism. Having a resident council is still better than no resident voice or oversight.

Observe Staff interactions with Residents

  1. If time allows, spend time at the community to see how the staff interacts with the residents. (Not just the marketing staff but the janitors, food service workers, etc.) Do they know the residents by name and do they know the residents well enough to chat with them? Does the staff engage the resident and talk in a friendly, service-focused attitude? Or, do you see staff members using angry tones or blaming residents for causing work? Do you see examples of unresponsiveness? Disrespectful baby-talk or talking over?

If you see sub-par interaction when touring or visiting you know it’s endemic. It’s not the first time or uncommon.  Management either knows or should know about it and isn’t taking any action.  You need to walk away. If management is blind to bad staff behavior, better yet,  run away.

Ask Current Residents

  1. Talk to and observe enough people with direct experience before you spend your money. And don’t just talk with staff. Especially don’t limit your interactions to marketing personnel. It’s their job to put the best face on a community. Talk to residents. Talk to family members of former and current residents. Talk to potential customers that chose to go elsewhere. Ask why? Ask why, again? And again? The normal rule is it takes asking, “Why?” five times to get to the root cause or truth. (5 Whys Rule.) Really listen to the answers.

Staff Stability

  1. Low staff turnover is an important indicator of a happy staff. And a happy staff is a predictor of happy residents. Look for staff stability. Ask every staff member you meet, “How long they’ve been working at this community?” All or many short-timers? Be concerned. Quality senior housing staff with great management stick around. They enjoy the work and the relationships with residents. That’s what you want.

“By 2025 we’ll be short over a million caregivers in the system. So, where are those people going to come from? That’s a big issue,”

— Randy Richardson, President of Vi

Conclusion: Look beyond the chandeliers

A nice building doesn’t mean nice staff. It really is about the community. The residents and staff together make a community. This intangible is the hardest thing to evaluate. Fancy architecture or decor won’t substitute for great quality senior housing staff. Great staff is an essential ingredient for a great community.

Doing your due-diligence on the intangibles is much harder than looking at the community’s financial strength or physical quality. Deferred maintenance or poor maintenance can be a warning sign about both finances and staff. Still, you’re not just buying real estate or picking an apartment.  You’re picking someone to deliver on future promises. No building is good enough to make up for bad staff.

Bad staff and staff abuse are a danger. You must guard against entering a community where staff or supervision is off track. You need and want quality senior housing staff. The good news is that the right staff, with the right attitude, is a huge advantage for both operators and residents. It really is, make or break. You’re buying relationships. Make sure you buy good relationships and not grief and frustration.


A Crisis Of Care: As America Gets Older, Who Will Pick Up The Slack? (8/26/2019)