John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Please take a look at these two headlines from yesterday’s McKnight’s Business Daily:

Sounds like some pretty good news, right? And it should be noted, the tone here aligns with much of what’s been reported lately about the state of senior living.

As post-COVID occupancy levels recover from precipitous lows — and the nation’s overall economy shows renewed vigor — it’s easy to conclude that senior living is in for an across-the board rebound.

Easy, but perhaps wrong.

Despite the visible signs of recovery, the sector is not universally on the mend. In some cases, communities are very far from it.

McKnight’s has been in contact with several vendors who have made a concerning observation: certain senior living customers are facing challenges in meeting their financial obligations. In severe cases, some operators are grappling to make any payments at all.

So what gives here? A few factors may be in play.

One is that senior living is a diverse market with myriad consumer options, each with its own unique characteristics and challenges. And the choices are only expanding. Some models happen to be doing better than others at the moment. While a free-market economy may be the best universal wealth-builder ever devised, it can be an unforgiving arbiter.

In addition, the quality of leadership, management and operational execution varies significantly across the senior living sector. To be sure, there’s no shortage of exemplars in our midst. But there are also plenty of communities that are, to put it as politely as possible, in need of assistance.

External factors further complicate the landscape. Economic shifts, policy adjustments and occasional pandemics, among other uncontrollable variables, can either deliver unexpected windfalls (such as favorable COVID loans) or lead to catastrophe.

A common phrase heard at industry events is, “If you’ve seen one senior living community, you’ve seen one senior living community.” The statement is often made in reference to the architectural and service variance in the field. But it might just as easily describe the sector’s fiscal health as well.

To be sure, big-picture benchmarks can reveal much about overall market conditions. But for better or worse, each community’s reality can be quite different.

John O’Connor is editorial director for 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. Read more of his columns here.