Apps, Telehealth and Ramped-Up Testing: Senior Housing Adapts to New Normal

Industry leaders discuss their responses to the coronavirus outbreak and what it means for the future of the sector.

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As an industry, senior housing has experienced perhaps its biggest test over the last two months in the coronavirus pandemic. Widely reported instances of nursing care centers with high numbers of deaths, a further-exacerbated shortage of skilled labor and decreasing occupancy rates have shaken up the historically resilient sector.

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And while industry leaders are optimistic about the long-term prospects for the senior housing segment, they have had to adjust to a new normal in the way they operate their properties. During a webinar with executives and industry professionals last week, operators discussed how they’re responding to challenges during these unprecedented times.

In a recent executive survey of senior housing operators by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, 79 percent of respondents reported a decrease in occupancy of nursing care properties, the highest figure among all types of senior housing assets.

“Operators are feeling a sense of fatigue,” said Steve Blazejewski, managing director of seniors housing at PGIM Real Estate. “I think it starts to wear on people and we’ll start to need to shift to a different model to support people.”

Atria Living CEO John Moore, who leads one of the largest senior housing operators in the country, said testing is “their way forward” in the current environment. His company tested all 14,000 employees earlier this month and will test all new staff and residents at its newer properties as well.

Atria currently has two big projects in the works: one in New York in a partnership with Related Properties and one in San Francisco in a partnership with Welltower. Both construction projects have been allowed to continue are expected to come online in 2022.

In addition to ramped up testing and limiting the number of move-ins at properties, Moore’s firm is preparing to roll out an app that will allow family members of senior housing residents to see their daily temperature during routine checks by staff.

His firm is also looking at telehealth options through hospitals that have been aggressively opening up new networks.

“You’ve got to come up with a strategy to make the business make sense,” said Moore. “I’m optimistic we’ll start to see a little movement in move-ins in May, with the combination of testing all the staff.”

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