Senior living operators received some good news last week with the publication of the results of a long-awaited study of COVID mortality rates in the United States in residential senior housing and care settings.

The research, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago and funded by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, found that 64% of senior living communities — collectively, independent living, assisted living and memory care communities — had no cases of COVID in 2020.

By property type, the analysis found that 67% of independent living communities, 64% of assisted living properties and 61% of memory care communities studied saw no COVID-19-related deaths in the 10 months of 2020 that COVID was known to be present in long-term care in the United States.

In fact, the average mortality rate for residents of independent living communities was statistically the same as the mortality rate of the 75-and-over population in corresponding counties in the study, suggesting that residents in this type of group setting were not at higher risk of death from COVID-19 than those living in private homes.

As pandemic restrictions relax and visitation resumes, operators can use the findings to bolster consumer confidence in the safety of senior living and counter some of the move-in hesitancy of prospective residents and their adult children. (See the “Related Articles” at the end of this one for additional research results and information that may be helpful.)

But operators still have a to-do list to help attract and reassure prospective residents and their families:

  • Remember the lessons learned, and keep following infection control best practices and federal, state and local pandemic-related guidelines. Doing so will serve you well now as well as when flu season begins.
  • Continue to encourage COVID vaccination among residents and staff members.
  • Educate the general public about the differences between senior living and skilled nursing. Many senior living operators have lamented that the lay media often have lumped the two settings together in their news reports, and that the general public does not understand that senior living communities are not the same as nursing homes, which saw the greatest number of long-term care deaths during the pandemic (only 39% did not have any COVID cases in the NORC study).
  • Because safety is not the only concern that older adults and their loved ones have, convey what you’ve done and will continue to do to promote activity and communication and to prevent loneliness and isolation among residents.

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