GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As senior living facilities continue to deal with nursing shortages, the largest provider in Grand Rapids is getting millions to help retain and hire more staff.

Holland Home has received $3.5 million from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. It’s the largest grant in the provider’s 132-year history.

“It’s very exciting news, shocking news,” said Doug Himmelein, the group’s executive vice president of operations and human resources. “It’s gonna touch a lot of lives. We can try things we’ve never been able to try before.”

The funding will help three skilled nursing facilities: Raybrook Manor, Breton Rehabilitation & Living Centre and Edison Christian. Those providers employ 540 caregiving and support staff.

Of the 90 applicants for the grant, Holland Home is among just six groups that received funding. The state awarded $67 million in total to the six recipients.

Holland Home’s goal is to create a “stable pipeline of critical caregiving staff.” Like many providers, it’s been a challenge for Holland Home to hire certified nursing assistants. The entry-level roles provide vital support in caring for patients, including feeding, transporting and bathing them.

“It’s such an important role,” Himmelein said. “They’re in there experiencing and seeing what the resident is going through on a daily basis.”

“We’re always looking for quality staff, staff that want to give from their heart,” he continued. “We don’t look for a person for a paycheck. We’re looking for that person who wants to give to the next level.”

The funding will help Holland Home transform its recruitment strategy. The provider is teaming up with Michigan Works to find talent from across West Michigan.

“They’re a huge supplier of talent,” Himmelein said. “How do we embed them more into our company?”

The provider also plans to launch advertising campaigns across social media, television, jobs boards and even billboards.

“I think our organization’s traditionally old-school,” Himmelein said. “I think that’s something we can work on to attract a younger workforce.”

In its proposal to the state, Holland Home said the pandemic has left “deep gaps on its caregivers’ ability to overcome daily challenges.”

“Unfortunately, we’ve observed steady degradation in our staff’s ability to continue to overcome many of the personal barriers they experience each day in attempting to fulfill their obligations to the organization,” the letter reads.

“Personal barriers limit a caregiver’s capacity for the skills, patient and compassion necessary to ensure not only quality care, but also satisfaction with their role and vocation,” the letter continues.

Himmelein said Holland Home has lower turnover rate than the state and national average. Still, the provider is taking several steps to help keep nurses on board.

“We got to grow our own and keep them,” Himmelein said.

The nursing home plans to expand its use of a case worker and success coach. That individual aims to understand employee’s needs and help them, ranging from daycare to transportation.

“We hope to better embed the case worker into our facilities and in doing so create an environment better suited to enable staff to proactively seek counsel and assistance,” the letter reads.

Some staff often wear the same uniform multiple days in a row because of financial concerns, according to the provider’s grant proposal. Holland Home plans on offering a uniform allowance to help them get three outfits and shoes.

Leaders will also focus on training nursing care staff to help them advance in their careers. Earlier this year, Holland Home relaunched its preceptor training program to develop talent. The grant is retroactive to the beginning of 2023, so it will cover the costs associated with that program.

Grand Rapids Community College also has a training program on-site at Holland Home, where students do their clinicals. Holland Home hopes that will act as a pathway for students to join the providers as well.