To Agency or Not to Agency? Here are Some Questions to Ask Yourself

So you’re thinking about bringing an agency in to support your Long Term Care (LTC) home. The shifts have been short. Your staff are pulling doubles. The flu has hit and March Break is around the corner. Your staff and residents need a backup plan, stat!

Before introducing an agency to your home, here are some questions to ask yourself:   

Is the agency reputable? Ask for references. I suggest asking for 3-5 LTC Administrator or Director of Care (DOC) references. If you get three great references then you know you’re working with a reputable agency. If one or two are so-so, ask for two more references. Make sure you feel good about the references you’ve received.  

How does the agency screen their employees? What personal and professional screening is the agency completing before they allow supplemental staff into your home?  Is the screening aligned with your own organization’s screening process? How quickly can you access staff files when you need them?  This is all very important information to know as you decide which agency will help keep your residents safe and cared for, and your staff supported.

Do you understand the contract? Read the contract thoroughly. The contract should be mutually beneficial; ask about things that you are unsure of. The agency’s responsibilities and your responsibilities should be clearly defined. There’s work on both ends to ensure seamless staffing – understand the part your home plays. The best way to ensure you have a great relationship out of the gate is to be clear about what each other’s expectations are. Have your lawyer look at the agreement.

Who will be the main contacts between both organizations? Having a designated contact from both organizations will keep the communication flowing and the staffing as seamless as possible. We usually ask for someone in HR/scheduling to work directly with the agency for booking orientations, posting shifts, canceling shifts, dealing with concerns, submitting invoices and anything else that comes up. 

What is your staffing demand?  Be honest about your staffing demand – the more honest you are with your agency about how many schedule lines are empty, the better they can prepare to staff your home. I’ve had LTC homes tell us that they have three empty lines but they’re posting over 60 shifts per week. That doesn’t add up and it sets us both up for disaster! 

Does the agency actually have the capacity to help? Once you’ve identified your true need, find out if the agency has the capacity to cover your needs. What percentage of your shifts can they cover today?  What’s the magic number to get your LTC home to its ‘happy place’? What will the agency do to help you get there?  Does the agency have any data to back up what they are promising? Is your need high? Is your home in a more rural area?  You may need to consider using more than one agency.  

Are you on board?  The way you treat and reference your agency will trickle down to your staff. If you respect the staffing partnership, so will your staff.   Agency-use usually comes when all other internal efforts are no longer successful. Using an agency doesn’t say anything about the way your LTC home is being run, but often administrators and DOCs look at it as a failure on their part.  We are in a time where the demands to our sector and the staffing shortages are unprecedented. It’s time to accept that staffing a LTC home is a truly challenging task in this climate and that doesn’t say anything about your LTC home at all.  

Are your employees on board?  Be transparent with them. Let them know that you’re bringing in some help and that you will need their help to get the backup plan organized. Look for leaders on your team to do some orientation. Reward people who step up to orient. The best way to successfully and seamlessly onboard your new staffing backup plan is to work together.  Our goal is to keep as many PSWs happily working in the LTC sector – and the more we work together, the better chance we’ll have at achieving this.  

Understand the hiring opportunity with your agency.   I can’t speak for all agencies, but with Plan A, after an A-Teamer picks up 30 shifts in your LTC home, you can offer that employee a position in your home at no additional costs. The woo is on when an A-Teamer starts working in your LTC home. With 4000 PSW jobs posted across Ontario every single week, we need to keep as many PSWs in our sector as possible. Make sure your staff knows what the hiring opportunity is and have them help you short-list some great candidates.

LTC homes are often surprised to find out how beneficial adding a staffing agency to their organization is. By doing your due diligence before picking an agency for your LTC home, you will ensure that you make a trusted and worry-free choice for your residents – and your staff will thank you for it!

~ Sheri Tomchick, President, Plan A Long Term Care Staffing & Recruitment


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