New initiative aims to transform the landscape for Minnesota’s home health caregivers

An innovative approach to one of the foremost issues facing Americans is unfolding – and it involves three organizations right here in Minnesota.

With 60,000 Minnesotans turning 65 this year and every year through 2030, the demand for professional senior caregivers is vast and growing. That’s why Minnesota-based organizations Benedictine Health System, Knute Nelson and Accra are joining New York-based research and consulting giant PHI in a multi-year initiative to recruit and retain home health aides.

The initiative aims to “elevate the role of the nurse aide” in Minnesota’s home care system, including:

  • Developing entry-level training programs and curricula;
  • Providing coaching supervision training for managers;
  • Piloting an eLearning approach to create an efficient, cost-effective training solution for employers.

Face Aging MN spoke to representatives from two of the three organizations involved in this new effort.

At Benedictine Health System, we interviewed Laura Campbell, the Director of Organizational Learning, and Kathleen Murray, Organizational Learning Developer and Trainer.

At Knute Nelson, we interviewed Brooke Zabel, the Vice President of Human Resources, and Samantha Beckman, the Vice President of Marketing.

Here are excerpts from the interviews, which have been mildly edited for length.

Why did you decide this was the way to address this issue?

Brooke Zabel, Vice President of Human Resources at Knute Nelson

Brooke: “PHI was given an opportunity to do some research in rural Minnesota and Wisconsin. They shared their report with us, and we got to know each other. Our values are very much aligned, so over time we decided to do more work together – and this initiative is one result of that.”

Kathleen: “We had previously hired PHI to help develop training curriculum for a CNA mentor program we developed for our skilled nursing facilities in 2017. It was a successful partnership so when they reached out to us this year about a nurse aide program for Assisted Living communities, we were excited to partner with them again.”

What do you see as the biggest barriers to not only elevating awareness about the careers available in senior care, but also to recruit, train and retain caregivers?

Brooke: “It’s the labor shortage and the sheer need. The unemployment rate is low, and we’re competing for people. We’re hoping with this partnership we can show there are so many things home care can bring, and make sure caregivers are connected. With PHI’s expertise and programming, part of their mission is their mentorship program, which has shown success time and again in multiple organizations.”

Laura: “While salary is always going to be a challenge, we also know that relationships, opportunities for growth and work environment can also be key factors to recruit and retain good employees. We want to eliminate the impression that there aren’t growth opportunities with being a nurse aide. PHI has some great ideas to create programs that enhance the role of a nurse aide and offer them opportunities to grow in their role without having to go back to school for an RN degree.”

Have you considered trying to reach the “underemployed”? Or Minnesotans who are 50+ who are able-bodied and may have a hard time getting traditional jobs? We’re seeing a more robust population of people who are healthy and wanting to work into their 60s and 70s.

Brooke: “We are currently exploring that and asking, ‘How can we reach those people?’ A lot of times there is a cohort within this group who has either been cared for themselves or they were a caregiver and found a niche. They would be called to this type of work. It’s something we definitely want – to foster a culture of inclusion. How can we train them on the job and leverage that? We talk about this in many different ways.”

Kathleen Murray, Organizational Learning Developer and Trainer at Benedictine Health System

Kathleen: “I firmly believe that there are many people in their late 40’s or 50’s looking for that encore career that offers a new career path and provides more meaningful work. The challenge is how to reach those people and educate them about the fulfilling work of caring for our seniors. As our population ages and there aren’t enough younger people to work in the field, we have no choice but to look at other populations for our workforce. It will be great to brainstorm with PHI about this population and explore ways to reach them.”

What are you hoping will be the results of this initiative?

Brooke: “We want to see the workers we don’t have today in place and sustained. To see retention climb, along with employee satisfaction.”

Laura: “For BHS, this is about recruitment and retention. We’ve got great workers already, so how do we keep them here? BHS is piloting this project in two of our more rural communities. We’re hoping what we learn here can be replicated across our entire system in five states and 30+ communities. I think in particular the career pathways program for nurse aides and PHI’s Coaching Approach to Supervision are two programs that we hope to see successfully developed at the pilot sites and replicated across BHS.”

Who are the key institutions also needed at the table to solve this issue? State government, federal government, schools, nonprofits, advocates, etc.?

Samantha Beckman, Vice President of Marketing at Knute Nelson

Samantha: “It’s a collaborative effort with almost all of them. Everyone has such different needs, and it takes a lot of hands to succeed. I believe that us investing time into this project means that along the way, we look for those partnerships and joint efforts. We’re looking for where we can move projects together and in a faster way than in a lone effort.”

Laura: “This isn’t a problem that any one of us can solve alone. We’re looking at where we can align ourselves with schools, agencies and others. How can we take an innovative approach to engaging our future workers and stakeholders? Caring for our seniors and thinking strategically about how to address the needs of this growing population can’t just be done by the providers.”

Brooke: “If an approach is working, why wouldn’t we share it? We just happen to be lucky and chosen for this initiative, but I’m sure there are many others who could benefit.”

Kathleen: “Many of our communities have great relationships with community colleges that offer certification for nurse aides. BHS is also a member of LeadingAge that is working to address workforce challenges. This issue isn’t going away and will only get worse if we don’t work now to find creative solutions to recruiting and retaining a viable workforce for senior caregiving.”

Laura Campbell, Director of Organizational Learning at Benedictine Health System

Laura: “We also need to be creative with technology so partnerships with companies and organizations that are being innovative in reaching workers and providing training will also benefit us in the long run.”

Kathleen: “In the end, so much of this is about relationships. We’ve built a strong relationship with PHI which will yield positive results here in Minnesota for the seniors we care for. How do we create more opportunities for these kinds of partnerships? The bottom line is we need to find those people that have a passion for caring for the elderly. When I am training, I always ask, ‘What’s the best part of your job?’ Ninety percent of the time, the response I get is, ‘The relationship I have with the residents.’ It’s the number one reason they love their job. It’s truly fulfilling work and we need to partner with others to make sure people are aware of the great career opportunities provided in long term care.”

Over the next several years as Benedictine Health System, Knute Nelson and Accra work with PHI to empower home health aides and increase opportunities for their growth and advancement, we look forward to seeing how this initiative transforms the caregiving landscape in Minnesota.

Minnesota will need 25,000 more caregivers to support seniors within the next decade – and this initiative is an important step toward preparing the workforce.

Anna Paulson is a regulator contributor to Face Aging MN. If you want to reach her or have any questions, you can reach us at Have your own story to share? We’d love to hear from you.

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