One of the biggest outcomes of the pandemic on the life plan / continuing care retirement community sector has been giant leaps made in recognizing the importance of connectivity within the lives of older adults and taking steps to ensure that it continues in spite of not being able to see each other in person, said speakers Wednesday at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting Virtual Experience. 

“We’re doing things today that we’ve been talking about for a decade, and a lot of that has been driven from the virus, but it’s also being driven by the incredibly smart and good people that are behaving and working in our sector,” said Sean Kelly, president and CEO at the Kendal Corp., which operates 14 life plan communities, also known as CCRCs, in eight states. 

Along those same lines, the pandemic also has allowed operators to get a better handle on what residents actually can do without, noted Justine Vogel, president and CEO at the Riverwoods Group, a life plan community operator with three locations in the Northeast.

“It’s really been about figuring out how we can learn from the last seven months,” she said. “What did people really miss and not miss?”

The panel also discussed the challenges related to serving middle-income seniors — Americans who have too much in financial resources to qualify for government support programs such as Medicaid, but not enough to afford most private-pay options for very long, according to 2019 study of middle market seniors housing funded by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

Kelly noted that Kendal Corp. — and much of the life plan community sector — has been considering a variety of different models, including breaking programs and services into “smaller kits of parts” to make these communities as accessible as possible to as many as possible. He also encouraged operators to consider partnerships with affordable housing and other alternative models as an evolution of the traditional life plan community. 

“It’s not about taking a life plan community that’s entrance fee-based and trying to squeeze all of the luxury out of it,” he said. “It’s really about thinking differently about the services and programs that make a difference in people’s lives and that people actually want.”

Many older adults, he said, have no intention of moving into what he terms “bricks and mortar-style communities,” but they still need and want services, and they still need and want connectivity. 

“We have the chops and, frankly, an obligation to figure out how to distribute our services and programs more wholly across a larger portion of the demographic,” Kelly said.

Vogel agreed, noting that the sector’s obligation includes a responsibility to focus on both residents and seniors today and the residents and seniors of the future. The need for programs and services will continue to be great, she said.

“I’m bullish on where we’re heading,” Vogel said. “I think people are going to want this even more so as we come out of the pandemic.”