Hospice of Southern Maine (HSM) recently partnered with Granite State College to offer its employees reduced tuition in pursuing higher education.
While the coronavirus pandemic has been a large concern for hospice providers in 2020, staffing has also remained among the top challenges. With the industry facing widespread staffing shortages across all professional disciplines, hospices are focusing on staff with efforts to boost workforce recruitment and retention. More than 26% of respondents to a Hospice News survey indicated that staffing would be the greatest challenge they expected to face during 2020. The survey was conducted prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
With the nation’s aging population continuing to grow and lead to increases in hospice and palliative care patient volumes, demand for qualified specialists in these fields continues to rise. Maine is among the many regions facing shortages even as demand for hospice grows. The hospice utilization among Medicare decedents in Maine reached 50.6% in 2017, according to the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization. Utah has the highest rate of utilization at 59.4%.
“Maine has a severe nursing shortage and a shortage of hospice aides as well,” HSM’s CEO, Daryl Cady told Hospice News. “An investment in this workforce is an investment in our agency, and ultimately, an investment in our employees. We want to create that long-term partnership with our staff right at the beginning by offering the right benefits, including ongoing education with possible career advancement opportunities to help not just recruit, but retain our staff — furthering their careers is one more way for that to happen.”
Though a friend and colleague, Cady spearheaded a partnership to expand access to higher education through Granite State College’s Employee Partnership program. Located within roughly 100 miles of the hospice in Concord, New Hampshire, the public college works with employers to offer training and education pertaining to specific occupations. The program includes online learning, professional development and tuition partnership services.
“Our partnership with Granite State College to expand access to higher education for our employees is focused on providing them with supportive, high-quality and affordable programs,” said Cady. “The employee program is effective immediately in time for summer courses and online learning, which is especially crucial during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
HSM partnered with Granite State College to offer employees a reduced tuition rate in pursuing degrees in higher education in an array of professional disciplines applicable to hospice operations. As Cady explained, HSM employees have the option to utilize reduced tuition rates for their education equal to a 20% reduction off in-state rates for undergraduate and graduate courses to earn degrees in related fields. After the first year of enrollment, the reduction is 10% with an annual reimbursement allowance to offset educational costs.
“There’s a whole host of degrees offered that are important in supporting different areas,” Cady said. “Staff could earn an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing. There are also opportunities in business management, health and wellness, human resources, IT, compliance and quality areas, and finance. These are certainly not clinical, but still very important to an agency.”
Banding together with community partners has been increasingly important for hospices to both break down the stigma of providing end-of-life care and to attract an interdisciplinary workforce. Educational programs such as those with HSM and Granite State College stand to benefit more than just hospice and palliative care employees, but also the patients and families they serve.
“It’s really important to have satisfied employees and a high-quality workforce,” said Cady. “I really believe that if we take good care of our employees, they’ll take good care of our patients and their families. It all goes hand-in-hand to result in what we believe will ultimately be better patient care.”