The coronavirus pandemic certainly is rocking senior living to its core.
Many communities are desperately trying to figure out both how and whether they will survive. It’s a sobering time for all involved.
We also are starting to see prognosticators weigh in on possible future directions for seniors housing and care – with or without a COVID-19 vaccination. Some are even going so far as to predict extinction. Well, that may be stretching things just a bit.
To be sure, changes will be necessary, especially in the short term. For starters, this sector will need to make an unprecedented commitment to infection control. Labor costs are going to spike. So, too, will outlays for personal protective equipment and other medical equipment and supplies. And who knows how many prospects suddenly are souring on the idea of living in close quarters with many high-risk individuals?
To be sure, COVID-19 could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back for some operators. That’s particularly true for communities that already were struggling to meet bank note and payroll obligations. But let’s not confuse cause and effect: many of those struggling organizations hardly needed a pandemic to push them over the edge.
And that’s not to say the pandemic is not a terrible, lousy thing. It is, in just about every way imaginable. We have seen about 100,000 COVID-related deaths this year alone. To put things in perspective, that’s about twice the number of Americans who were killed in the Vietnam war — or roughly 30 times as many people who died during the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001. And many of those mortalities are taking place in eldercare communities. And the fatalities keep coming.
So will this sector be different in say, five or 10 years? Absolutely. But the sector was going to be very different, regardless.
Perhaps you have heard of Rick Ferri? He’s an investment analyst, adviser and author. He’s also a devoted Boglehead. (Bogleheads are investing enthusiasts who ascribe to the beliefs put forth by the late Jack Bogle, who founded Vanguard.)
Ferri has been credited with describing the four stages in an investor’s life: 1) darkness, 2) the light, 3) complexity and 4) simplicity.
I’m beginning to wonder whether the same progression might be applied to senior living. If so, I’d estimate that we are somewhere between stages 2 and 3.
Many operators have “seen the light” when it comes to identifying seniors’ needs and preferences. And almost just as many have developed relatively complex models, both from a service and pricing standpoint.
It remains to be seen whether senior living will continue to become more complex. Or, as I suspect, whether it eventually will become more “simple.”
Guess we’ll know soon enough.