Mama always said good things usually happen slowly, but bad things can happen fast.
The coronavirus pandemic sure seems to be proving her point. Virtually overnight, many operators are finding themselves in the fight of their lives.
Truth be told, there already were more than a few chinks in the proverbial armor before COVID-19 became a household word. Let’s start with the fact that there was — and is — an extreme amount of new construction taking place. A lot of these up-and-coming complexes are counting on ridiculously optimistic fill-up projections. As a sort of indirect consequence, many older and suddenly-not-so-attractive facilities are scrambling to stay relevant and occupied.
And perhaps the most future-shaping issue of them all — whether senior living fundamentally is a healthcare or hospitality business — hardly is resolved.
Throw in some interesting subplots (big firms trying to get out of the ditch, competition from above and below, states trying to figure out how much oversight this sector deserves, and a few sketchy characters making things interesting, just for starters), and the portrait of this sector that emerges hardly would resemble a Norman Rockwell painting.
Nursing homes are shipping residents back to families. Senior living residents can’t leave rooms. Pay cuts and furloughs are rampant. Fingers are being pointed at the sector as never before.
Earlier this week, a Bloomberg editorial essentially called for an end to senior living organizations. Why? Because they segregate the elderly and, by implication, make seniors more vulnerable. Can’t wait to see the subsequent editorial calling for adult children to give up families and careers so they can move in with their aging parents. But I guess that’s a story for another day.
Regardless, one of the consequences of the pandemic will be renewed questioning of the value of places such as assisted living communities and nursing homes.
Those in this field always have insisted that these are need-driven choices. The veracity of that viewpoint soon may be put to the test. As for the questioning, it’s likely to take on an intensity and swiftness that would have seemed unlikely just a few months ago.