For most operators, the pandemic became real two years ago.
Yes, we’d been hearing about a weird virus from China a bit before then. But it was right around St. Patrick’s Day 2020 when things suddenly got very serious.
As we’re nearing an anniversary of sorts, this may be a good time to offer an assessment and some observations.
First, the assessment: COVID-19 hit senior living like a wrecking ball. Occupancy dropped, expenses exploded, workers quit and many operators are still struggling to make payroll. There is not much about any of this to like. Fortunately, it appears the worst may be over. Let’s hope so.
Now for a few observations about senior living surviving:
1. We suspected things might get bad. But this?
Any time a new virus blows into town, you never know how tough it might be. Sure, there were some warnings about COVID-19, but the general sentiment two years ago was that it might be a bit worse than the flu. Well, it was that, and a whole lot more.
Worldwide, more than 6 million COVID-related deaths have been recorded. Meanwhile, we’re nearing the 1 million mark in the United States. Truly devastating.
2. Things feel different
In some ways, it feels like life’s “pause” button was hit two years ago, and we still haven’t hit “play.” Supply-chain issues have made it harder to get things we once took for granted — or at least to get them without waiting much longer. Inflation is rampant. Russia has gone country shopping. And who can ever forget the lunacy that followed our last presidential election? Yep, it’s been a weird ride, all right.
Senior living is in many ways a different business these days as well. Infection control is no longer an alien concept. Hiring and keeping qualified employees — a test in good times — arguably has never been more challenging. Moreover, we don’t know yet how soon things will get back to normal, or even what the new normal will look like.
3. Resilience rules
To be sure, senior living is worse for wear. But here’s the thing: it’s still here. Turns out people who operate these communities for a living tend to be a pretty resilient lot.
In every corner of this field, it’s easy to find tales of survival against incredible odds. That’s just one reason why I’m very bullish about the sector’s future.
Many people consider the late Peter Drucker to be the world’s greatest management thinker. Drucker famously said that the real purpose of any business is not to make a profit (even though a profit is certainly necessary). Rather, he insisted, there is only one valid purpose: to create a customer.
Senior living is to be commended for doing exactly that, along with simply surviving. Despite the recent trials and tribulations the sector has endured, customers continue to exist for what you provide.
You can survive almost any test by serving your customers well. Just ask the thousands of operators who are now doing exactly that.
John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care.