Creativity in design, financing, construction, operations and marketing is imperative to the senior living industry moving forward post-COVID-19, according to the results of a survey of for-profit senior living companies.

“The State of Senior Living Development Moving Forward” from New York-based architectural design firm Perkins Eastman, found that the view of the industry is optimistic, with an eye toward action and innovation. 

Perkins Eastman Moving Forward Study cover

Perkins Eastman surveyed 21 CEOs and developmental leaders of senior living companies in July to assess the effects of COVID-19 on the industry in four areas: markets, finance, construction costs, and development opportunities or issues.

When it comes to market and societal shifts since the pandemic, senior living averaged a score of 7 on a desirability scale of 1 to 10, and many respondents discussed the need to educate the public on the distinction between skilled nursing providers and other forms of senior living that are focused on lifestyle and hospitality. They also stressed the importance of marketing the desirability of senior living, including socialization and safety, adding that they are finding demand remains strong, and in some cases, has increased, during the pandemic.

The vast majority of respondents said older adults will have changed expectations because of the pandemic.

“After COVID-19, one thing that has been demonstrated to residents and families alike, is that despite the fear some may have of being in a congregate situation, well-run communities are providing the care and tools for both residents and staff to stay healthy,” said Hoyt Scott, vice president of development for One Eighty.

The bottom line, the report states, is that marketing is critical in communicating good operations and protocols. 

The majority of participants said they anticipate a slight short-term drop in construction costs, adding that requirements for social distancing and infection control will affect costs overall. But they anticipate that the demand for building will continue. 

A concern exists that an emotional response by lenders to negative media attention on the industry as a whole will affect confidence in the industry. There also was consensus that new entrants into the senior living market will have difficulty obtaining funding, as lenders continue to favor established relationships and long track records. 

Most participants reported the belief that access to capital will decrease in the short term (48%) but will rebound fairly quickly and ultimately will increase in the long term. The demographics of an aging population and older adults’ impending needs for services and care remain unchanged and bode well, they said.

“Projects, and specifically the design features required to mitigate viral spreads, will be scrutinized more carefully,” said Bobby Zeiller, chief development officer for Silverstone Senior Living. “But senior housing as a product segment remains desirable to equity investors. The underlying fundamentals of the industry are sound, and the higher quality providers will continue to innovate through design and programming, attracting capital.”

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • The Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee’s Unified Command Group has announced three new initiatives meant to enhance the well-being and quality of life of residents of long-term care facilities. These efforts include expanding options for visitation relaxing restrictions for resident interactions within long-term care facilities and the formation of the Tennessee COVID-19 Long-Term Care Task Force. LeadingAge and the Tennessee Health Care Association helped develop the initiatives.
  • Rhode Island’s House Republicans are calling for legislation to guarantee that all assisted living residents have at least one designated visitor. The legislation would allow one person to “safely remain with the patient, nursing or group home resident at prescribed hours each day or week.” Some facilities remain reluctant to host visitors after state health guidelines called for facilities to fully shut down again if a positive case developed. That guidance, also for hospitals, group homes, nursing homes and veterans homes, was updated after those concerns were expressed.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced visitation in assisted living, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in a press conference about moving into the next phase of COVID-19 visitation. Texas Health and Human Services updated emergency rules to allow a designated essential caregiver to provide supportive, hands-on care to facility residents without COVID-19.  Updated guidance on reopening facilities includes testing requirements, designated visitation areas and barber or beautician services resuming. Visitation will expand beginning Sept. 24. 
  • The Tampa Bay Times editorial board said that stringent guidelines set up to combat the spread of COVID-19 should only last as long as they are needed, but now is not the time to let up on testing of employees who work at assisted living communities. State Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat, sent a letter to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration demanding the agency reinstate mandatory COVID-19 testing for staff at assisted living communities. A state order mandating the testing expired over the weekend. Nursing homes still are required to test staff under federal rules.
  • Florida families reportedly are confused about the state’s new visitation rules or are concerned about the way facilities are applying them. Many also worry about the state dropping requirements requiring coronavirus testing of staff members at assisted living communities after reopening them.
  • The six-bed A Loving Hand Assisted Living in Denver says it is struggling to stay in business during the pandemic because it is being grouped with larger senior living communities under the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, requiring extra staff and increasing liability insurance rates. 
  • College-based retirement communities have been upended by COVID-19, according to a media report. With restrictions on auditing classes and empty campuses, some residents are finding themselves isolated in a way they didn’t anticipate.
  • Mulberry Gardens Assisted Living in Munroe Falls, OH, created parking lot “ponds” to resemble fishing holes as a pandemic activity. The ponds were loaded with fish and residents were given fishing rods to relive bygone days at the lake.
  • A Colorado musician recorded a concert for his grandmother’s assisted living community. Using a laptop and a microphone, she put on a virtual concert for the residents of Good Samaritan Society – Loveland Village that included several jazz and folk cover songs recorded in her home studio.