Hurricane Irma pummeled the Sunshine State over the weekend—and started to test senior housing companies’ natural disaster protocols in the process.
In South Florida, 1 in 5 residents is older than 65, and in three counties projected to be hit hardest by Irma, there are about 500,000 residents over the age of 75, The New York Times reports. It is likely Irma has caused the largest-ever evacuation of licensed senior care communities, according to The Washington Post.
As of 9:30 a.m. local time on Friday, 108 assisted living communities throughout Florida had been evacuated, Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) Director of Communications Kristen Knapp told Senior Housing News. Still, there were plenty of senior housing communities where residents and staff were sheltering in place, and hoping for the best.
Almost ‘business as usual’
Among the providers opting to evacuate at least one community was Holiday Retirement. The nation’s second-largest independent living provider—which recently relocated its headquarters from Lake Oswego, Oregon, to Winter Park, Florida—has just under 80 senior housing communities that were projected to be in Irma’s path, Holiday COO Mark Prince told SHN on Friday. Thirty of those communities are in Florida; the rest are scattered throughout in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
About 60 of the properties are independent living, Prince said. The rest are assisted living and memory care communities.
“We prepared, where needed, to evacuate the communities, secure transportation, and bring residents to another one of our communities safely,” Prince explained.
Holiday recently dealt with Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, which led to the evacuation of one Holiday community in Corpus Christi, Texas, and power outages in some of Holiday’s Houston communities.
Though the power outages undoubtedly posed a challenge to residents and staff, they arguably prepared Holiday to better deal with future natural disasters.
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“It was a good, small test for us,” Prince explained.
To prepare for Irma, Holiday increased its food orders at impacted communities to between five and seven days’ worth of food, as opposed to the usual three days’ worth. The company has also begun temporarily housing various community staff members—housekeepers, caregivers, maintenance workers and foodservice workers, among others—and their families in its buildings.
“That gives us an ability to keep ‘business as usual’ as much as we possibly can,” Prince said.
Overall, there always seem to be opportunities to have things go more smoothly.
“We learn new things every single time,” Prince said.
Long-term industry implications
Holiday is far from the only senior housing provider that has had to brace for Hurricane Irma.
Though it recently weathered Hurricane Harvey, Dallas-based Capital Senior Living (NYSE: CSU) had to similarly prepare to face Irma, CEO Larry Cohen said September 7 during a presentation at the 2017 Wells Fargo Healthcare Conference in Boston.
“We already have shutters up,” Cohen said at the time of CSU’s sole property in Boca Raton, Florida. “We have preparations for days.”
The Boca Raton community was Capital’s only building immediately at risk of being seriously impacted by Irma, Cohen explained. Capital has operated the community since 1992—which means it survived the infamous Hurricane Andrew.
Still, Irma was expected to be worse than Andrew, Cohen admitted.
“We have generators, we have fuel, we have food,” he said of the Boca Raton community. “We have made dorms for our staff to live there to take care of our residents.”
Looking ahead, Cohen believes that Harvey and Irma will ultimately slow the pace of new construction throughout the senior housing industry.
“The biggest headwind the senior housing industry has faced over the last two to three years has been concerns about new building and supply,” he said. “It has started to wane. This will definitely accelerate that pace, because construction workers will relocate to Houston and, if Irma hits Florida, to Florida. We already see an increase in components for construction, in increasing cost, so new buildings will become prohibitively more expensive.”
Written by Mary Kate Nelson