Staffing Shortages Affect Harrisburg-Area Jewish Orgs

By Adam Grobman

The Brenner Family Early Learning Center was the first in-person program to resume in Summer 2020, after the full shutdown of the JCC building in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, it is still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have a waiting list of students,” says Christine Cutuli, HR Coordinator for the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg. “It’s not because we don’t have space, but because we don’t have enough teachers to accommodate them.”

The Brenner Family ELC is not alone in this predicament. 92% of surveyed PA child care programs have reported staffing shortages.

Christine says that the industry-wide shortage of teachers, specifically Pre-K teachers, has limited the school’s ability to increase the number of students and stretched staff who have stepped in from across departments to ensure that quality and legal standards are met.

“It is really all hands on deck,” Christine says, noting that Federation executives are frequently helping to cover staff breaks and student pick-up/drop-off.  “We’ve even had some retired teachers who have returned to help out.”

While ELC staffing hurdles have persisted, the JCC has worked diligently to fill front desk, fitness desk, lifeguard, and camp counselor roles throughout the pandemic – all of which are currently well-staffed or gearing up for their seasons.

In addition to Christine, who began with the organization in August, the Federation has also filled the full-time roles of ELC Director (Jodi Meloy), Accounting Director (Adrianne DeJesus), and Development Coordinator (Kim Hutnik) in recent months.

Still, Christine feels that the pandemic has thrown many complications into employment for both organizations and workers.

“We’re still in the middle of the pandemic,” she says. “We’re open for business, but we’re doing that in the face of this crisis where people are ill, quarantining, dealing with childcare issues – it can be a difficult time for parents to be working outside of the home. So we’ve seen that some people have left the workforce and haven’t yet returned.”

Recruitment challenges have also hit long-term care facilities like the Campus of the Jewish Home.

“Nursing shortages are prevalent,” says Allen Geckle, CEO of the Campus. “But it impacts everything – dietary and activity aides, housekeepers, floor techs, and other departments across the board.”

To combat lower staffing rates, the Campus has reduced their census – number of patients and residents on premises – to maintain quality and state requirements. Preparations – both before and in the lead-up to COVID – have helped the Campus to be successful in meeting the needs of its residents.

“We’ve always staffed well above the required levels of care,” Allen says, while noting that that surplus has shrunk slightly. “One thing we look at is ‘care need’ of new residents – determining if we can meet that resident’s needs through our staff without compromising the care we’re giving to other residents.”

Across the industry – before COVID, but especially in the midst of the pandemic – it can be difficult to recruit for direct care positions like Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs) and Licensed Professional Nurses (LPN).

“In this field, there’s potential for COVID cases and exposure, and seeing staff wearing some of the PPE can be intimidating,” he says. “We offset that by having a good plan in place for safety.”

Allen says that the organization’s commitment to safety has been noticed by the team members that have remained on board.

“I’m most proud of our retention rate over the last eighteen months,” he says. “We were very transparent early on about what we knew, we were aggressive with our policies and procedures, and once our staff got more comfortable and started to trust that we were doing our homework and creating policies to protect them, we didn’t have a lot of staff that left due to COVID reasons.”

Still, recruiting for the medical field in the COVID age can be difficult, and the Campus has made a concerted effort to fill the roles needed to operate. The organization has an active Recruitment and Retention Committee which meets weekly to discuss initiatives and programs to ensure full staffing.

“We’ve offered sign-on bonuses and internal referral bonuses, as well as temporary adjustments in pay,” Allen says. Currently, an incoming CNA with no experience would earn $16.50/hour.

Allen estimates that the organization needs to hire about a dozen CNAs to be able to increase census to its pre-pandemic levels. Christine says the JCC is looking to hire about a half dozen teachers.

For more information on JCC employment, visit and send resume and letter of interest to Christine at For information on Campus of the Jewish Home employment, visit