The age of COVID-19 is here to stay. Although vaccines now are available widely, medical experts anticipate that the virus will continue circulating for years, possibly decades.

Vaccines have allowed us to manage the pandemic, but we won’t be eradicating it any time soon. With omicron, boosters are likely to provide protection, yet it is still too early to tell how this variant will affect communities over the next several months.

Even if this virus could be gone tomorrow, the senior living industry will be living with its effects for generations. Our job is to understand what this means and adapt while staying ahead of consumer demands and industry trends.

At Aegis Living, we’re already tracking how the pandemic has changed consumer confidence. Three areas are emerging as critical to consumer confidence in 2022.

But first, there is some good news. Just in the past 90 days, we are seeing an increase in census and occupancy. For 18 months, families have been at home caring for their loved ones and now are ready to transition them into senior living for added support. This backlog of families will skyrocket the demand in 2022, and with the lack of supply, we will see census rise across the board.

The challenges to overcome will be:

1. Crisis management

Although health and safety always have been on the list of qualifications for consumers when selecting a trusted senior living company, leaders now will be addressing questions around how they responded to the pandemic. Consumers need transparency to build genuine trust after nearly two years of negative perceptions perceived in our industry. The bar is higher.

Families want to know what communities did to keep their residents and staff safe. How did they pivot to meet challenges with staffing shortages, supply chain issues and other safety areas? With COVID-19 cases continuing to spike, families want to know how companies are preparing for the next crisis.

Those who have a proven track record of effective, compassionate crisis management during the COVID-19 pandemic will gain a competitive edge in the decades ahead. Those are the companies that led with honesty and transparency and that continue to share lessons learned.

2. Staffing

Staffing shortages have been at crisis levels since last year, and recent reports show that it’s not going to get better any time soon.

Companies are leveraging staffing agencies to keep up with resident levels yet are struggling to fill the gaps. These impacts ultimately amount to lower staff-to-resident ratios. Families understand this fact and want to be confident that their loved ones are getting the appropriate care and attention.

Among the first steps we’ve taken is creating our own staffing agency to ensure that high-quality caregivers get recruited into the positions where they are needed. We also work to consistently validate our employees on why they chose to work for Aegis and celebrate them with personalized support such as free meals, free telehealth and continuing education opportunities.

3. More transparency and communication

Continuing the theme of building trust, it doesn’t start and stop with companies sharing their best crisis management tactics. Companies need to be even more transparent across all fronts to show that their residents are not just surviving but thriving. Consumers want and need to see validation through reviews, testimonials and family advocates.  

Resident families also will expect updates more frequently that show their loved ones living full, purpose-filled lives. Our Family Link App and platform allow us to dynamically share photos and videos in real time. Making sharing easier and more interactive for both residents and families is the key.

By building and reinforcing your reputation now, companies can set the stage for future move-ins as we see occupancy rates start to climb back up after the winter months.

Other trends will emerge in the months and years ahead, but one thing is certain: the pandemic will shape our industry for generations. Senior living leaders need to move quickly to track, understand and adapt to gain back consumer trust and provide the best, quality care for their residents.

Dwayne Clark is founder and CEO of Aegis Living.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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