Senior housing operators across Texas have been through many hardships in the past 12 months. First, the pandemic completely changed their daily routines, then the severe weather conditions in February challenged them once again as they needed to make sure their residents were safe and cared for, despite all the dysfunctionalities caused by the storm.
Sagora Senior Living, a privately owned company that operates more than 40 properties throughout several states—including Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama—implemented a series of protocols to address COVID-19 infections while also minding residents’ mental wellness. Later, during the period of freezing temperatures, the company’s on-premise management teams worked around the clock to keep residents out of harm’s way.
Here’s how the pandemic and the most recent weather events impacted Sagora’s portfolio. President Bryan McCaleb weighs in, highlighting his company’s strategy to successfully overcome hard times.
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How would you describe 2020 from the perspective of a senior housing operator?
McCaleb: 2020 was unlike anything we could have ever predicted or imagined. It obviously presented numerous amounts of challenges that affected each aspect of our business. The pandemic led us to introduce new safety protocols and change what our day-to-day operational routines looked like across the board. While the year presented us with challenges, our teams came together to implement new changes for the best protection of our residents and associates, and I feel like our organization is stronger than ever before.
How did you keep your residents safe during the recent severe weather conditions that occurred in Texas?
McCaleb: The severe weather conditions also presented a multitude of challenges. Some communities experienced power outages, water outages, water leaks and/or boil-water orders. For these challenges, we relied on on-site community generators for heat and power, pallets of bottled water for our residents’ consumption and personal needs, and constant communication with our residents and their family members. Our associates stayed on-site at our communities when needed to ensure that our residents were safe, comfortable and cared for.
Has the extreme weather caused any significant damage to your properties in Texas?
McCaleb: Although we have communities that had damage throughout Texas and Oklahoma, some major and some minor, we are thankful that all of our residents and associates weathered the storm safely. Over 25 of our communities experienced flooding, water issues, power outages and/or water leaks. We are actively working with plumbing and emergency vendors for repairs, most of which are complete.
What was the most difficult thing for you in the past 12 months? What about the most satisfying?
McCaleb: The most difficult thing was seeing how COVID-19 affects people—even beyond health complications. While this virus can cause debilitating symptoms and even death, it also caused emotional and financial strife for so many.
The most satisfying part of 2020 was seeing how our teams came together and remained dedicated to our residents throughout the pandemic. They brought the life, joy and care to our communities during such uncertain times. I am humbled by and grateful for our associates’ unwavering passion for our residents.
You were very transparent about COVID-19 cases throughout your communities. What measures did you take to prevent the spread of the virus after some of your residents tested positive?
McCaleb: To mitigate any potential spread of COVID-19, any residents who tested positive for the virus were quarantined away from all of our other residents, mostly off-site. Additionally, after a positive case, we perform contact tracing and cease all communal dining, group activities and plexiglass and outdoor visitations. We continue to practice social distancing, frequent handwashing and disinfecting guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What has been your approach to collective activities at your communities since the onset of the pandemic?
McCaleb: We’ve done our best to continue to provide the vibrant lifestyle that our communities are known for while doing so in a safe manner. Our communities continue to hold group activities and events, but they are in smaller groups, where social distancing can be maintained. We even hold in-apartment programming when there is a positive case of COVID-19 within the community. We understand that the pandemic has presented mental health issues, so we work diligently to ensure that our residents are seen and receive the social interaction needed to maintain mental wellness.
We even started a mental wellness program within our communities that focuses on spiritual, emotional and social wellness. This program teaches our residents and associates healthy tips and strategies to use to ensure that all areas of health are well taken care of.
How has technology helped you during COVID-19? What tech management solutions would you recommend?
McCaleb: At all of our communities, we have communication stations set up and equipped with iPads where residents have the ability to schedule virtual visits with their loved ones via FaceTime or Skype. Our dedicated associates help our residents with the technology when needed.
Our associates have enjoyed the opportunity to assist our residents in becoming more confident and comfortable using tech. More seniors have taken to social media to keep up with their families while they cannot connect in person, which has broadened their reach with grandchildren and out-of-state loved ones they were unable to connect with regularly even before the pandemic.
What can you tell us about the vaccination process at Sagora communities? Has it started? How are your residents responding to the possibility of receiving a vaccine?
McCaleb: We are proud to say that we have indeed started COVID-19 vaccinations at our communities. In fact, many of our residents and associates are fully vaccinated or on their way to full vaccination. We’ve partnered with CVS Pharmacy to hold vaccination clinics within our communities for our residents and associates to attend. Our residents are excited to receive the vaccine and are ready to go back to a state of normalcy. They feel that the vaccine presents this opportunity while giving them a great deal of peace of mind.
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Does the future hold any expansion plans for Sagora Senior Living?
McCaleb: We are always looking to expand and provide more seniors the opportunity to call our Sagora Senior Living communities home and look forward to this new year and even more opportunities to grow.
Please talk about your expectations for the senior housing sector in 2021 and beyond.
McCaleb: We see a bright future with vaccinations underway. We believe that today’s seniors truly deserve the peace of mind that comes from knowing that all of their needs are anticipated and met with an abundance of care and compassion. We are proud to offer independent living, assisted living and memory care living options, vibrant programming and events, chef-prepared meals, fitness classes and so much more. With the vaccine, we expect to put COVID-19 behind us and celebrate a new tomorrow with our family of communities.