A group of older adults happily socializing

Virtually all senior living providers have been affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of a Ziegler CFO Hotline survey released Thursday.

The survey, conducted May 15 to 22, included almost 320 largely not-for-profit providers and covered a variety of topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including government funding, impact on marketing and sales, and how and when to loosen restrictions.

“This has had an impact across all areas of our organization. It’s hard to plan/prepare for growth with the rules and regulation changes,” one response read.

Four out of 10 providers indicated they were beginning to ease some restrictions or would be doing so within a week, including opening beauty salons, dining areas and access to common areas. The remaining 60% indicated that they have no immediate plans to loosen these restrictions.

“Residents across all levels of care are struggling with the visitor restrictions,” one response read. Another wrote, “Isolation is negatively affecting residents.”

Plans vary by region. In the Midwest, 71.2% of respondents indicated they have no immediate plans for loosening restrictions, compared with 64.7% in the Northeast, 62.5% in the West and 43.9% in the South. 

Those indicating they already are loosening restrictions were mostly from the South (26.8%), compared with 21.4% in the West, 15.7% in the Northeast and 13.7% in the Midwest.

Senior living operators are following the lead of the governments of the states in which they operate, which in turn are looking to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and other factors.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that assisted living communities and intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities can begin outdoor visitation beginning June 8 if they are “properly prepared.”

In a series of tweets, DeWine said the decision was based on the impact on quality of life a prolonged loss of connection can have on an individual, requests from families and residents, and consultation with advocates and providers, including LeadingAge Ohio, the Ohio Health Care Association and the Academy of Senior Health Sciences.

Massachusetts also reportedly is among states “actively looking at” allowing outdoor visitations for residents in long-term care facilities.

As operators begin to loosen restrictions, they also anticipate an increase in marketing and sales leads, as well as independent living move-ins.

“Independent living sales have not slowed down, but some of the move-ins have been delayed due to the inability to refurbish empty units, or prospective residents’ inability to obtain a moving company,” one respondent wrote. “By no means is the interest lacking, though.”

That thought was echoed by real estate investment trust executives on recent earnings calls. One of the positive effects arising from this pandemic, some said, is a growing appreciation of senior living among people whose parents are the age of prospective residents. A pent-up demand exists, they said.

During the pandemic, marketing and sales forces pivoted their techniques to virtual platforms, according to Ziegler’s survey results. Increased website and social media presence (89.7%), along with phone calls and virtual appointments with individual prospects (89.1%), were the most common activities. Many providers also turned to virtual tours and events (70.1%) and direct mail (53.7%).

According to the survey results, eight out of 10 providers indicated that they saw a decline in independent living sales during the pandemic. Seventy percent of respondents indicated that although sales had slowed, they still had independent living sales during March and April.

Sixty-five percent of providers reported allowing and accepting move-ins to their independent living areas during the pandemic. Of those that did not allow move-ins, the majority said they would allow move-ins to resume in May and June, although one-third of those who shut down move-ins said they did not know when they will open them back up.

Read full survey results here.

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