woman giving "thumbs up" sign

Brookdale Senior Living President and CEO Lucinda “Cindy” Baier announced a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for its approximately 35,000 workers during today’s second-quarter earnings call, saying the health and well-being of residents and associates is the company’s “North Star.” 

“Our residents led the way —  a 93% resident vaccination rate is just incredible,” Baier said. “We’ve seen a large majority of our associates get vaccinated. We think with the spread of the delta variant, it’s really time to take the next step and require our associates to get vaccinated, with limited exceptions.”

The country’s largest senior living company, she said, is continuing infection control protocols that include handwashing, social distancing and masking, but requiring staff vaccination is important to maintaining the trust of residents and their families.

“Residents and their families trust that we will continue to take appropriate measures to help protect against the spread of the evolving COVID-19 virus,” a Brookdale spokesperson told McKnight’s Senior Living separately. “Thus, we decided to implement a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for associates, subject to limited exceptions. We believe recruiting our associates to be vaccinated against the disease is an extension of the commitment to put those we serve first, and of our focus on the greater good.”

During the call, Baier said she recognizes that not everyone is going to agree with the vaccine mandate, and she added that Brookdale will be proactive in educating employees about the decision. The company will bring additional workers in if necessary, the CEO said.

“Our objective is to have our communities staffed with full-time and part-time associates, and we want them to be vaccinated,” Baier said. In a press release issued in conjunction with the earnings call, Brookdale said that “potentially greater associate attrition and use of contract labor due to the company’s associate vaccine mandate” were some of several factors that “could have a material adverse effect on the company’s operations and future prospects.”

Brentwood, TN-based Brookdale owns, leases or manages 685 communities across 41 states, according to a presentation released in conjunction with the earnings call. The company will consider medical and religious exemptions to its policy, and Baier said there are some jurisdictions — she mentioned Oregon, specifically —  that limit the senior living provider’s ability to require staff vaccination.

Oregon state law currently prohibits employers from independently mandating vaccines for certain categories of workers, including healthcare workers. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, however, announced a new rule requiring weekly COVID-19 testing for healthcare personnel, which can be waived with proof of vaccination. In a news release on Wednesday, Brown said she intends to work with stakeholders and lawmakers to address the issue in the February 2022 legislative session.

Brookdale did not publicly announce a deadline by which associates would need to be vaccinated, saying only that the company is using a “phased approach.” Workers at one Illinois community were told they had until Nov. 15 to get the shot.

Brookdale joins several other senior living companies that already have COVID-19 vaccine mandates in place for employees. Among them: Aegis Living, ALG Senior, American House Senior Living Communities, The Arbor Co., Ascension Living, Atria Senior Living, Benchmark Senior Living, CareOne, Civitas Senior Living, Enlivant, Episcopal Retirement Services, Five Star Senior Living, the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, Genesis HealthCare, Harbor Retirement Associates (for new employees), IntegraCare, Integral Senior Living, JEA Senior Living, Jewish Home Family, Juniper Communities, LCS, Masonicare, Presbyterian Senior Living, Retirement Center Management, Silverado, Sunrise Senior Living, Trilogy Health Services, Trinity Health, Vi Living and Wesley Enhanced Living.

LeadingAge and AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine have called for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for long-term care workers, and the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living and the American College of Health Care Administrators have announced that they “strongly” encourage it.

Other highlights from the second-quarter earnings call:

  • Brookdale said it saw five consecutive months of occupancy growth. Second-quarter weighted average occupancy grew 90 basis points. July’s weighted average occupancy growth was nearly equal to the entire second quarter’s sequential growth. Consolidated senior housing occupancy was 72.6% as of June 30 compared with 70.6% as of March 31.
  • The senior living company estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in $109.5 million in lost resident fee revenue for the second quarter. Brookdale recognized $1.3 million in government grants and employee retention credits during the second quarter. 
  • Facility operating expenses decreased $55.2 million (9.1%) in the second quarter 2021 compared with the second quarter 2020. This was primarily due to a $50.9 million decrease in COVID-19 expenses, labor costs for home health services and food costs. 
  • Brookdale said it spent $9.7 million in the second quarter on pandemic-related costs, including personal protective equipment, medical equipment, cleaning and disposable food supplies, enhanced cleaning and sanitation, COVID-19 testing, and increased employee-related costs, including labor, workers compensation and health plan expenses. Cumulatively, Brookdale said it incurred $162.6 million of pandemic-related expenses — 39% were for employee-related costs, 36% for PPE and medical supplies, and 25% for cleaning and other costs. 
  • Chief Financial Officer Steven Swain said labor expenses increased in the second quarter, primarily due to the difficult labor environment and the company’s use of contract labor and overtime to fill openings. Other operating increases were attributed to higher insurance-related expenses, along with incremental marketing expenses to help with the pandemic recovery.
  • Brookdale completed the sale of its healthcare services segment on July 1 to HCA Healthcare.