The ongoing spread of COVID-19 within skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities and a national surge in telemedicine use may be two key factors fueling a push for seniors to age at home, even after the pandemic is under control, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

Although senior housing industry executives point to solid evidence that older adults have been better off in their care, many acknowledge the industry is suffering from a major image problem.

“One of the greatest risks today is what I call headline risk,” Beth Mace, chief economist at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, told the paper.

Further, the growing use of telemedicine amid the pandemic likely is to continue, allowing older adults to more easily receive medical care at home. Physician visits through American Well, also known as Amwell, increased 1,000% during a recent six-week period, the firm’s CEO told the WSJ. 

The pandemic’s early damage to the industry became even more real during last week’s first-quarter earnings calls, when Ventas, Welltower and Healthpeak reported falling occupancy rates and revenues amidst soaring labor and personal protective equipment costs. 

Senior housing operators continue to remain hopeful for a sector recovery once the pandemic subsides. Many are pointing to the range of benefits of senior housing communities beyond medical care, including the ability for more socialization and activities to help residents stay healthy, Mace noted. 

“I don’t think telehealth will be the make-or-break decision of whether I move into senior housing,” she said.

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