If the long-term care industry hopes to devise coping strategies for COVID-19, then operators across a wider spectrum of provider types must start submitting data to increase transparency about coronavirus infections and their effects, National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care President and CEO Brian Jurutka believes.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has begun gathering key coronavirus statistics, but only nursing home operators have been required to submit data, he pointed out Monday in an interview with McKnight’s. Further, he said, the data being gathered often do not reflect current conditions.

Brian Jurutka
Brian Jurutka

“Most often, stories focus on the most egregious cases and don’t get put in broader context of all the communities that don’t have COVID-positive cases,” Jurutka said. “Second, they are cumulative stories, noting the cumulative number of positives or deaths. It hasn’t happened yet, but we could have more COVID-positives or deaths [eventually reported] than there are current residents.”

It’s critical that all seniors housing and care settings — not just skilled nursing facilities but also independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement / life plan communities — understand whether their percentage of infections and deaths is rising or falling, not just accumulating, he added.

“Even if the [cumulative] rate of affected operators is 60% or 70%, I would guess the current number could be a tenth of that. There is an opportunity for the industry to educate the broader media and population,” Jurutka said. “One opportunity is to educate. A second is to build trust and confidence. If we provide information and transparency, it will build credibility with the broader public.”

Credibility, he noted, is much preferred to lay news organizations or others requesting information through Freedom of Information Act requests or lawsuits, or to the industry seeing others attempt to aggregate data.

The gamble of not doing more

“This risk if we don’t get clarity is the story will continue to be driven by these ‘numerator’ stories, and they tend to be negative and, to some extent, fear-driven. They also don’t put the data into full context,” he said.

”That will ultimately lead to increased levels of concern among the general public for the long-term care space and broader policymakers and influencers within the space. Even among investors, insurance providers and other constituents in the broader space,” Jurutka continued. “Without having the information and being able to understand the broader trends, it’s not flattering, nor necessarily in context.”

The consequences of not gathering and disseminating more information would be damaging, he said. 

“By not having this information for the broader seniors housing ecosystem, even the players in this ecosystem will have less visibility and will rely on the headlines and could say, ‘Gosh, should I invest in this space?’ And, ‘Is it still what I thought it was when I became interested?’”

To answer the challenges, NIC has been undertaking a broad COVID-19 data-gathering initiative, “Executive Survey Insights: COVID-19.” Argentum and the American Seniors Housing Association have enlisted their members to submit statistics by the regular Sunday deadline, but Jurutka would like other providers — from all settings and ownership types — also to take part, preferably on a monthly basis.

NIC is asking operators to contribute their testing, infection and mortality numbers regarding:

  • How much testing has been done.
  • The percentage of individuals with lab-confirmed COVID-positive test results.
  • The percentage of suspected COVID-positive individuals.
  • The outcomes afterward for COVID-positive individuals — the percentage who recovered and the percentage who died.

Operators can enter their data by clicking here. Those who submit their statistics get the first look at the aggregated results, which then are released publicly 24 hours later. 

“We’re past that almost adrenaline-fueled crisis phase and approaching that ‘new normal,’ and we have to figure out how to [conduct business] on an ongoing basis,” Jurutka said. “What are the right policies and procedures for admitting new residents? How do we ensure we’re getting access to [personal protective equipment] and testing? And how do we ensure caregivers on the front lines are appropriately supported to serve the most vulnerable population in America?”

The past three months have speedily brought record amounts of change, he said. The next six to 12 months will bring slower change but still more than the past few pre-pandemic years combined, Jurutka predicted.

To be ready, operators must first be candid, he said.

“Any important piece here is to have key metrics and to understand how broader metrics are performing across all care settings. That information is incredibly valuable,” Jurutka said. “Not just ‘how am I doing,’ but ‘how am I doing relative to the broader industry?’ If you have a car and your car is running just fine, but you understand there is a recall across the broader make and year, that’s the time you say, ‘Let me look at my car to see if I need to do some maintenance or make changes.’ Operators must be ready.”