We recently hosted a webinar with Senior Living Foresight, “Operations Spotlight: How Senior Living leaders are retaining staff in 2023 and beyond”. The conversation featured two expert Operations leaders, Diane "Dee" Navarro, Vice President of Operations at Westmont Living, and Jodi Guffee, COO and Owner of Radiant Senior Living, with participation from Justin Schram, August Health's Co-Founder and Co-CEO, and moderated by Senior Living Foresight’s Steve Moran.

The webinar focused on actionable strategies and tactics, and some of the techniques shared by Dee, Jodi, and Justin can be implemented near-instantly. Check out the video above to review the entire webinar, or continue reading for a few key takeaways.

Operators rely on unconventional techniques for recruitment and engagement

Creative sourcing & thoughtful engagement

During the webinar, Dee and Jodi discussed a variety of creative channels to attract staff to senior living. As Jodi described, her team "[does] a lot of outreach into high schools to talk with kids about career paths in senior living." And key to that outreach, Jodi says, is "focusing on this next generation of individuals and how they want to be engaged." For example, Jodi outlined that creating a safe environment and having modern technology in the community are both key criteria for this next generation of staff.

Nontraditional hires

Dee explained that taking chances on people from outside the senior living industry can lead to successful staff stories. As she articulated well, "we all got our break into the industry somehow." Dee herself sold copiers before she broke into the senior living industry. Jodi agreed: "I am not afraid to take a chance on somebody."


The panelists also discussed the necessity of having upfront conversations about the benefits of a career in the industry, but also the challenges. All participants agreed that aligning on the reality of working in senior living is essential to successfully recruiting and retaining staff, particularly in terms of avoiding short-term attrition.

Successful staff retention starts with experimentation and deep engagement

Experimentation/Testing & Learning

Considering the challenges associated with retaining staff across the industry, both Dee and Jodi’s teams have experimented with many strategies to reduce turnover, followed by strategic but flexible investment in methods that showed promise. Jodi summarized this dynamic as, "We realized that enough spaghetti was thrown at the wall. It was time to pick and stick, roll it out, and implement and [operationalize] some things, knowing we'd have to shift and pivot."

Deep team knowledge via FORD

One of Jodi's strategies is engaging staff through following the FORD framework: Family, Occupation, Recreations, and Dreams. By the end of each new employee’s onboarding, Jodi’s team ensures that these dimensions are understood, and using that information, sends a personalized gift to that team member’s home, letting them - and their family - know that Jodi and her team are thinking about them. Jodi said that following this approach has allowed them to reach a deeper understanding of staff members’ unique lives and foster a greater sense of engagement.

Empowered Executive Directors

Similarly, Dee's team takes steps to understand their staff on a deeper level. One of the ways they do this is through empowering executive directors, "We empower our executive directors to ask questions and use the responses to shape how they run their communities." Dee's team also uses a staff survey to gather feedback, assess successful practices, and bring to light shared staff difficulties. For example, Dee discovered that staff relationships with residents is a big driver for staff satisfaction.

The relationship between Staffing and NOI is more critical than ever

The costs of turnover are only rising

During the webinar, Dee succinctly summed up why she prioritizes staff engagement: "[staff] engagement is cheap but turnover is expensive." Given rising resident acuity, staff recruitment difficulties, and an inflationary environment that’s creating tighter operating margins, the need to retain existing staff is becoming even more critical. One or two key staff leaving can result in institutional knowledge being lost, declining resident care, and less care revenue being captured — ultimately all resulting in NOI being threatened. These realities are pushing Jodi and Dee to do everything they can to engage and retain their staff. 

Matching staffing and acuity to avoid the NOI Spiral

Adequately staffing based on resident acuity is a crucial factor in ensuring staff satisfaction and retention. When staff members are responsible for an appropriate number of residents they feel more capable and confident in their roles, which ultimately reduces turnover. Additionally, this practice safeguards operators from the negative cycle known as the NOI Spiral.

The NOI spiral is a common reality for many operators, wherein they do not have an accurate understanding of their residents’ evolving acuity, in addition to lacking modern technology, and trustworthy data. These deficiencies can cause or exacerbate staffing challenges, including staff dissatisfaction and turnover. When all of these challenges are combined within a community — staffing, technology, data, and acuity — they often negatively affect income. For example, when resident acuity is not being regularly tracked, which is often a signal of outdated tools and unreliable operating data, a community may be understaffed, which in turn results in staff dissatisfaction and turnover. Staff turnover can then result in further understaffing, worse care quality, missed assessments, and missed care revenue. All of these outcomes can lower NOI.

The importance of creating and implementing effective strategies to engage and retain senior living staff is only rising. Tune into the full webinar recording to learn more actionable strategies that your community could explore today. And if you’re interested in learning more about how August Health helps communities across the country improve staff satisfaction, please reach out.  

Memorable sound bites

"[When interviewing executive directors], there's no doubt in our mind we need our EDs to have the right business acumen... but I also have been looking at whether they are the right culture fit and can be a leader and [convey] difficult messages with compassion and transparency" - Diane “Dee” Navarro

"Wages were not the prevalent factor [for turnover]. It really came down to whether or not we are engaged with that team member to know what their life is like" - Diane “Dee” Navarro

“People don’t usually leave jobs, they leave bosses” - Jodi Guffee

“We just don’t see [a lot] of turnover after 90 days, and if they do leave, they come back. So here’s the red carpet out, and we’ll have the red carpet for when you come back” - Jodi Guffee

"We spend a lot of time identifying a very unique care plan [for our residents]. We need to also now recognize that an individual that's an employee also needs a care plan" - Jodi Guffee

August Health

August Health