John O'Connor
John O’Connor

I have a friend who insists problems that can be fixed with money are not really problems at all.

I guess that is an easier view to hold when one’s net worth is approaching $100 million. But he does have a point. A big check does seem to have the magical ability to make many headaches disappear. Still, there are some things that no amount of money can remedy. Just ask Steve Jobs.

What does this have to do with senior living? As it turns out, quite a bit.

Consider the challenges the pandemic has foisted on this sector. Two of the biggies are in fact money-related. One is that expenses have shot up, dramatically. Buying personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, costs related to finding and keeping staff and other charges have taken a huge fiscal toll.

The other huge money-related challenge? Simply this: revenues are way down.

Put those together and it’s not difficult to see why so many operators are struggling mightily these days.

For as bad as those two developments have been, they may not be the worst thing the pandemic has delivered. To be sure, financial challenges are no laughing matter. But at least things can be done to help alleviate the pain.

There is no easy fix for the worst thing the pandemic has done: raising new doubts about whether congregate living is a good idea.

As a growing number of media outlets are reporting, many would-be residents are opting to delay or deny a transition to senior living.

How widespread is this new trend? In a recent National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care survey of senior housing executives, nearly three-quarters of the respondents (74%) indicated families had voiced concerns about moving in while COVID cases escalate.

And such customer doubts are hardly unwarranted. By some estimates, more than 70,000 residents and staff members in nursing homes and assisted living communities died from COVID-19 by mid-August. Those are not the kind of numbers that are likely to pry prospects off the old homestead.

To be fair, the news here is not all bad. As McKnight’s Senior Living reported Wednesday, many independent living residents responding to a Plante Moran survey remain quite pleased with their new living arrangements. In fact, 77% of residents said they were “glad to be living in a community during the pandemic,” with 86% affirming they were happy they decided to move.

If only that was the universal sentiment. Looking at the big picture, doubt about senior living is spreading as perhaps never before. And that’s not the kind of problem that money can fix.