The business of aging

  • RiverMead residents Kim Faulkner, left, Martha Manley, Betsey Harris, Mary Beth Reville, Peter Rotch and Susan Rotch take a hike together. —Courtesy photo

  • Joel and Anne Huberman performing at the 2017 New Year's Eve talent show at RiverMead. —Courtesy photo

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, April 10, 2017 11:48PM

The retirement business is booming — with baby boomers.

RiverMead, a retirement community with both assisted and independent living units in Peterborough, recently underwent an expansion four years ago, building what they call “the village” to increase their living units by about a third. Currently, the company is planning another expansion and renovation they hope to see completed by the end of 2019, according to RiverMead CEO Bill James.

Already, said James, RiverMead has a significant impact on the surrounding economy, both as an employer, and in the role they play as a housing provider for the elderly population which use the area’s services. RiverMead employs about 285 people, in a variety of roles, and is one of the town’s largest taxpayers.

But keeping those positions filled — particularly in the direct care rolls — can be a challenge.

Staffing is a tough issue today for those in fields related to health care – particularly in the Monadnock region, which has stiff competition for health care workers, with low unemployment and Peterborough serving as the base for Monadnock Community Hospital, as well as several other nursing or retirement homes in the area.

Scott-Farrar Home in Peterborough, for instance, similar to RiverMead, has a continuum of care structure with a total of 63 units – 18 memory care, 25 independent living and 20 assisted living units with one or two bedrooms available. And within driving distance is Good Shepherd Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, an 83-bed nursing center in Jaffrey, and Friendship Manor, an 21-bed assisted living facility in New Ipswich also serving as competition for workforce. And that competition is not helped by what is simply a lack of people to fill that role.

Scott-Farrar Home, for example, while not having the same scale of employee need, with less than 50 employees, had difficulties staffing when they first re-opened their facilities, even delaying the opening of their memory care facilities by more than a month to give additional time to search for Licensed Nursing Assistants and Medication Nursing Assistants to supply care.

ConVal Regional High School even offers a Licensed Nursing Assistant certification course that students can take free of charge, getting their clinical hours in at the RiverMead facility — the ideal of which, said James, is to see students then put their skills to use in a professional capacity once they graduate. 

“If students are coming here and seeing the quality in work and living environment, and then wanting to come here for a career, that’s what we’re hoping for,” said James. 

RiverMead is made up of 153 units, according to Director of Resident Services and Marketing Jan Eaton, which includes 49 units in assisted living, 17 in memory care and 33 in their nursing units. RiverMead is set up to provide a continuum of living, so that if a person enters the community living in an independent apartment or cottage, and as they age their needs change due to their age, or developing health or memory issues, they can still remain in the same community and get the care they need — and as those needs change, the financial burden stays the same as when they entered the community, explained Eaton. 

But a combination of a large population approaching or entering retirement — which includes the baby boomer generation — and a good reputation means that demand is growing for that kind of security to age in the same place, said James. Which is why RiverMead hopes to add an additional 28 units, split across their independent, assisted living and memory care facilities — an expansion that James referred to as “significant.” There are also plans in place to, at the same time, implement renovations and additions to RiverMead’s Health Center, in response to demand for more fitness and wellness programs from its residents, said James.

“I think it speaks to the financial strength of the company, that we were able to undertake the village expansion four years ago, and now, within another four years, we’re ready for another expansion,” said James.  

RiverMead anticipates starting the approvals process at both the local and state level for the expansion by this summer. 

RiverMead has yet to determine the impact that will have on its staffing, there will certainly be increases to accommodate the additional population, said James. 

The future for direct-care workers

“All of the facilities in our region are anxious for the current nursing students to graduate and join the pool of potential employees,” said Cathy Gray, who heads the Monadnock Region Healthcare Workforce Group. According to Gray, as of December 2016, the region had 229 vacancies in the nursing fields. 

And that’s a problem Gray anticipates to continue. According to a study by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, demand for nursing assistants, home health aids and personal care aids will outpace the supply dramatically unless there is some shift in the attraction of the field.

Many of these jobs are projected to grow in the next decade, adding to a workforce group that is already one of the largest in the nation, only eclipsed by retail workers, with direct care occupations growing by 1.3 million new jobs by 2022. But the number of potential employees projected to enter those jobs doesn’t get anywhere near that number – instead projected to be about 230,000.

One of the reasons for the lack of workers in the field despite the high demand is that wages often don’t reflect the high demand for the field. Direct care workers are the lowest paid of the top ten fastest growing occupations, with wages for nursing assistants averaging $11.97 and hour, $10.10 for home health aids and $9.67 for personal care aids. 

Administrators at RiverMead say they’re well aware of this issue as it relates to their own staff, and are aggressive in making sure that they pay they offer is competitive with the competition in the area, as well as crafting an attractive benefits package and offering continuing education benefits in order to attract and retain their employees. 

“One of the things we implemented in the past couple of years is a salary and wage administration program,” said James. “We’re constantly looking to improve our benefit package and do a number of things in the workplace to promote a positive work environment.”