Beth Burnham Mace speaking
NIC Chief Economist and Director of Outreach Beth Burnham Mace shares “pretty big” results of a study Wednesday. (Photo by Lois A. Bowers)
Beth Burnham Mace speaking
NIC Chief Economist and Director of Outreach Beth Burnham Mace shares “pretty big” results of a study Wednesday.

SAN DIEGO—Residents of continuing care retirement communities were “significantly safer” from dying from COVID-19 than were older adults living in noncongregate residential settings in the greater community — and independent living, assisted living and memory care residents were as safe or almost as safe as those living in the greater community — once COVID-19 vaccines became available. 

That’s the key finding from new research funded by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care and conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. NIC Chief Economist and Director of Outreach Beth Burnham Mace called the news “pretty big.” She shared the study results Wednesday during a press conference as NIC’s Spring Conference began.

“And if you add on top of that the benefits of living in senior housing — the socialization, not being isolated, having good overall healthcare conditions provided to you — the combination of those things really is a good value proposition for living in senior housing,” Mace said.

The study found that the difference in death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, relative to deaths before the pandemic, was strongly reduced in all senior housing settings after COVID-19 vaccines were introduced. In fact, the researchers found that living in any type of senior housing was safer than living in a long-stay skilled nursing facility during COVID-19, both before and after the vaccines became available.

About 25% of the overall deaths due to COVID-19 have occurred in skilled nursing facilities, a setting that often is conflated with seniors housing, even though they serve different populations, Mace said. Nursing home residents typically have more serious health conditions that put them at higher risk of death from COVID. The newly released study, she added, was an effort to look at — and communicate to the public — some of the differences between settings.

Senior housing communities and nursing homes participated in the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care, so COVID-19 vaccines generally were available earlier to their residents than they were to older adults living in the greater community, Mace noted. This availability led to earlier uptake and a better rate of uptake of the vaccine among senior living residents, “and therefore they could sort of move on with their lives after that point,” lowering their risk of isolation, loneliness and stress, she added.

“The study was the first to really utilize an accurate and extensive list of senior housing properties matched to Medicare administrative data to identify who was where,” Mace said. “So we were able to take the healthcare conditions that we found in the Medicare claims data and cross-connect that with NIC MAP Vision data. This is going to lead to some pretty interesting findings for work we’re going to be doing this year.”

The results released Wednesday follow a NIC-funded NORC study for which results were released in June 2021. It found that independent living residents in 2020 before COVID vaccines were available were not at higher risk of death from COVID-19 than were their peers living in private homes in the greater community.

More studies

Also at the press conference, Mace said that NIC has four other studies in the works with NORC, with results to be released over the next year.

The first study will build on Harvard’s frailty index to devise an activities of daily living measure that can be applied at the singular property level, she said.

“This has been something we haven’t had yet, knowledge of what a single property has in terms of the ADLs,” Mace said. “That’s going to really be important when you start to work with value-based care providers, to figure out which properties have more needs for healthcare than do others.”

The second study will compare healthcare outcomes of residents of senior housing with those who live in the greater community to see whether the services provided in senior housing can help prevent hospitalizations and emergency department use, she said, adding that the third study will examine whether senior housing residents have better access to healthcare than do nonresidents.

“And lastly, we’re going to investigate whether residents of assisted living live as long or longer if they live in a senior housing setting,” she said.

Additionally, Mace said that NIC is working with the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging’s Financial Innovation Lab to study expanding financing options for middle-income older adults, and NIC also is planning to release case studies of operators that have successfully completed middle-market projects.

The organization, she said, also is planning a partnership with “another large academic research institution to further our research on the middle market.” Details will be announced in the coming weeks.

“I think we’re at a tipping point for the intersection between healthcare and senior housing,” NIC President and CEO Ray Braun told members of the media. “There’s a lot of discussion about it among the senior housing operators. These studies are going to help keep pushing us forward to integrating senior housing and healthcare even more.”

Braun also said that the organization plans NIC Academy, which will offer boot camps, courses and certification programs, including an online course about fundamentals in underwriting in senior living and care that will begin in the fall. The inaugural NIC Data and Analytics Conference also will be in the fall — specifically, Sept. 27-28 in Minneapolis.

Arick Morton, CEO of NIC MAP Vision, discussed upcoming projects in the area of data, including offering users of NIC MAP data the ability to see healthcare providers located near properties they own, manage or are thinking of purchasing. Users also will be able to better understand demand and the customer, including age, income and psychographic profiles of residents and their adult children.

“There’s a ton of operational insights and operational strategies that can be optimized on the back of that information,” he said.

Also coming are predictive analyses, and for those with an interest in the active adult area, NIC MAP will be releasing occupancy and rate data, Morton said.

Those announcements follow NIC MAP Vision’s news earlier in the week of its new listing service for brokers of senior housing real estate.

“Senior housing is entering a golden age of data,” Morton said.

Attendance sets record

Braun said that as of Wednesday morning, 1,953 people had registered for the meeting, representing a 15% increase over last year’s Spring Conference and the largest attendance ever for NIC’s Spring Conference.

Attendees are a diverse group, too, he said. Registrations from healthcare sector attendees are up 18%, to 120 people; C-suite executives represent 73% of attendees; first-time attendees represent 27% of attendees; and women represent 23.4% of attendees, an increase of 1.75% from a year ago.

Additional sessions on Wednesday covered wellness in senior housing, active adult, and value-based care opportunities. The meeting continues through Friday.