The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges and shaken consumer confidence in the senior living industry. Operators will need to do some “heavy lifting” in its wake, according to Missouri-based GlynnDevins.

But research results from the marketing company, based on surveys of senior living leaders and consumers, reveal glimmers of hope among industry uncertainties.

GlynnDevins Chief Customer Officer Susan Bogan said senior living operators should look at the COVID-19 situation as a marathon, not a sprint, and that communities need to prepare and “lean in” to keep driving success.

Key takeaways from the company’s research, shared in a Thursday webinar, show that senior living communities are still open for business and accepting move-ins. Bryan Herrman, senior vice president of insights and strategy, said occupancy expectations remain relatively positive, with 83% of independent living communities still accepting move-ins, compared with 69% of assisted living / memory care communities.

Data also revealed that communities are challenged by technology. Although communities shifted to alternative communication methods out of necessity, more than one-third of respondents reported struggles with staff, resident and prospective resident buy-in. On the flip side, those older adults who embrace technology see it as a way to stay in their homes.

Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships Lisa Legeer said communities need to sell not just the safety aspects of the senior living environment, but also the benefits of living in a community, such as the ability for basic needs to be met for seniors whose children don’t live nearby.

Citing trend information from National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care surveys of executives, GlynnDevins executives said the industry is showing continued declines in occupancy based less on admission bans and more on resident or family concerns about senior living.

“Home is still the biggest competitor for senior living communities,” Legeer said. “What we’ve seen through COVID-19 is an additional layover of disruption.

Overall, confidence ratings are very low, and the number of older adults considering senior living is down. Herrman said the data show the older the consumer, the lower the sentiment and confidence.

Some sobering numbers:

  • 46% of older adults are less likely to consider moving to an independent living community, compared with 51% less likely to consider assisted living / memory care.
  • 53% of family members are less likely to move a loved one into independent living, compared with 57% considering assisted living / memory care for a loved one.
  • 45% of consumers believe independent living communities are less safe than home during a health crisis, compared with 50% who believe assisted living / memory care communities are less safe.
  • There are regional differences in sentiment and confidence. The Northeast generally is higher on those points, whereas the West and Midwest are trending lower.

“What this tells us is the industry has some heavy lifting to do for the future,” Herrman said, adding that it’s a time to rebuild trust, sentiment and confidence. “It will take a significant effort across all levels of care, age segments and regions.”

In the midst of this crisis of confidence, communities need to adopt different messaging and use different mediums to communicate their stories. Treating prospective residents like a check-in, rather than a sales call, goes a long way in building relationships, Herrman said.

“Nurture relationships with your current leads. You are still making sales and moving in residents, particularly in independent living,” Legeer said. “Focus on the people already in the database. Be diligent about engaging with them and families with content that is relevant and creates a more personalized connection.”

Bogan said communities need to build a consumer-centric program that meets consumers where they are. Using marketing and sales programs from three years, three months or even three weeks ago is not working today. She said it comes down to delivering a continuous experience across multiple platforms and interactions.

Legeer recommended that leadership conduct a technology audit and understand the tools that marketing teams need to be successful, use data to drive decisions in real time, and be prepared for a crisis that continues unfolding.

“Communities that are continuing to innovate and evolve will come out of this crisis stronger and more successful than those that don’t,” Legeer said.