With a staffing crisis looming over the senior care sector, industry surveys and news reports routinely trumpet the steep challenges in skilled nursing facility recruitment and retention. Success stories are harder to come by, but they are out there, providing examples of how SNFs can successfully attract top talent and develop the next generation of leaders.
One such success story comes out of Somerton Center (pictured above), a 225-bed Philadelphia SNF operated by Kennett Square, Pennsylvania-based Genesis HealthCare (NYSE: GEN), the largest U.S. skilled nursing provider.
After starting her career as a registered dietitian at Somerton, Christina Quinn (pictured left) pursued a master’s degree and went through Genesis’ leadership development program, and she has served as the SNF’s assistant administrator since Sept. 2016. Within the next few weeks, she could pass a state-level exam and become a licensed nursing home administrator.
Skilled Nursing News recently spoke with Quinn to learn more about her career path and hear her thoughts on how the industry can attract and support other promising young professionals.
Climbing the ladder
Like many others in long-term care, Quinn was exposed to the industry early in life. Her mother, a nurse, switched from working in hospitals to long-term care while Quinn was in middle school. Also, she would sometimes accompany her grandmother to the local senior center during summers.
“I had a lot of opportunity to be around seniors,” Quinn said. However, this did not make her determined to pursue a career in long-term care. Rather, as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, she studied to become a dietitian and kept her options open as to where she might work. During her dietetic internship, she worked in hospitals, schools, and other settings all over Philadelphia. After completing that internship cycle, she decided her preference was for long-term care.
“I think what I like the most about [skilled nursing] is that you get to know the people you’re working with and caring for,” she said.
Though she knew about Genesis’ leadership development program, it didn’t weigh heavily on her decision to take the Somerton job in June 2009.
“I didn’t think it pertained to me,” she said. “I was young and thought I was going to be a dietitian forever.”
Wanting to continue her education, though, Quinn decided to pursue a master’s in health administration while working at Somerton. Starting in the program at St. Joseph’s University, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to go into administration, but the coursework convinced her that the path was a good fit. She liked the blend of using her clinical skills while also learning and leveraging leadership skills. It was at this point that the bell went off for her, to consider the Genesis leadership development program.
She was accepted after an application process that involved multiple interviews with people at various levels of Genesis, as well as taking personality tests and other exams. With the support of a preceptor and a mentor, she then dove into the program’s learning modules and training experiences. These covered all SNF departments. The financial module made the biggest impact for her, Quinn said, because she had a stronger clinical rather than business background.
The program also required that Quinn lead a quality improvement project. She focused on missing belongings, revamping the process of labeling, laundering, and returning residents’ clothing, resulting in fewer grievances about missing items. Then, as her capstone project, she spearheaded Somerton’s application for a Silver Award from the American Health Care Association’s quality program. Somerton received that award last fall.
On Jan. 24, Quinn will graduate from the program. Then, Genesis will place her in an administrator position when one becomes available.
Reasons for optimism
Quinn is optimistic about the future of skilled nursing because she does not see herself as an exceptional case. She says Genesis does a good job of supporting and promoting people with potential, at least based on what she has observed at her facility and in the leadership program.
Most of the department heads, unit managers, and business office leaders at Somerton are younger than forty, she said. And currently, there are about 70 people in various stages of the leadership development program across Genesis, Vice President of Public Relations and Communications Jeanne Moore told SNN.
“Personally, I’m seeing a rise in the number of older people retiring, and we’re definitely able to hire younger talent to take their place,” Quinn said.
She does believe that there might be a misconception that SNFs are slow-paced work environments and that they pay less than hospitals, which could put off young clinicians. However, bringing young workers into the SNF environment, particularly a large urban facility like Somerton, should dispel that myth, she said.
She described the facility this way: The short-term rehab wing brings in patients with acute conditions, the ventilator unit is like an ICU, the dementia care unit demands psychosocial care, and long-term patients are complex cases with multiple chronic conditions. If anything, she sees urban SNFs becoming even more fast-paced. At Somerton, the patient population over the last few years has skewed toward younger people with social and medical issues, rather than seniors with chronic conditions. Staff now have to be trained up to handle complicated behavioral health issues and drug overdose and treatment protocols.
“I didn’t realize how much I was going to learn [by working in a SNF],” she said. “I think you’re going to learn more in this setting than anywhere.”
As a leader, Quinn does have some ideas for what can be further improved, both at the facility level and for the sector as a whole. Millennials tend to crave constant feedback and coaching, so she believes that this needs to be prioritized over traditional yearly performance evaluations. Genesis funded Quinn’s master’s degree—“That was huge,” she said. She believes it’s important to offer similar support, and develop training and professional development programs, for all SNF departments.
“I know in our current environment it’s extremely difficult [to provide this kind of financial support],” she said. “But even if requirements were stricter, if you had to maintain a 3.5 grade point average to be funded, I think the strongest leaders would work for it.”
Considering the influx of younger, more acute cases into Somerton, the need for advanced training and education is becoming more pressing. So too is the need for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements that reflect the time and effort it takes to provide care for these types of patients, Quinn says. Convincing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to, say, create a new payment category is a big endeavor, of course—and while Quinn seems game for challenges, in the short-term she wants to keep taking her career one step at a time.
“I’m hoping for a smaller building, census-wise, to get my feet wet as an administrator, and then maybe in a couple of years, a larger building,” she said. “In five-plus years, I still see myself in a leadership role … I’ll look for opportunities.”
Written by Tim Mullaney