Senior living providers nationwide have been working diligently to prevent Covid-19 infections in their buildings — but an overwhelming majority believe that the coronavirus will appear in their communities.
Nearly 80% of respondents to a Senior Housing News survey said that Covid-19 is likely to appear in their buildings that have not yet had diagnosed cases. Out of those respondents, about 23% said the odds of this happening are “extremely likely” and 13% said it “definitely will happen.”
The survey gathered responses from 92 people employed by senior living provider companies over the past 10 days. All the respondents work for providers that offer assisted living, while most also offer independent living and memory care, with active adult, skilled nursing and CCRCs also represented.
Though small, the survey reflects many of the major concerns put forward by providers and large industry groups such as Argentum and the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA). For instance, these associations have been sounding the alarm over shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns and masks. The top challenge related to Covid-19 is a lack of equipment and supplies, according to about 42% of SHN survey respondents.
The lack of masks is specifically troubling, with about 42% of respondents saying their supply is low and 29% saying it is extremely low.
The shortage of PPE has been a central concern not only for senior living but for other health care providers since the start of the pandemic. Several leaders in senior housing and care spoke up in recent days about the worsening situation. Ohio Living CEO Larry Gumina voiced “anger and frustration” that senior living is being overlooked while supplies flow to hospitals, and Notre Dame Health System President and CEO Wayne Plaisance said that PPE is not available “at any price.”
Other top challenges involve staffing (22%); maintaining heightened infection control procedures (15%); lack of Covid-19 tests (12%); and lack of information/support from government entities (9%).
Testing has been another controversial sore spot in the U.S. response to Covid-19. Testing rolled out slowly and still can be hard to access, which increases risks for senior living providers that are trying to identify and appropriately limit contact with infected residents, staff and visitors.
About 17% of respondents to the SHN survey indicated that at least one of their residents had experienced Covid-19 symptoms but was denied a test. That number rose to nearly 22% who said that staff members had displayed symptoms and been denied a test.
The virus is being diagnosed in more senior living communities each day; however, fewer than a quarter of respondents (24%) reported they have residents who have already tested positive. And 15% of respondents reported that someone on their staff has received a positive diagnosis.
As for operational changes in response to Covid-19, the most common step has been to allow only essential visitors into buildings. This policy has been enacted by 90% of survey respondents. More frequent disinfection of surfaces is almost as common, being done by 89% of respondents.
While tours have been suspended by nearly 84% of respondents, only 32% have suspended move-ins, which also reflects information shared with Senior Housing News in recent weeks.
Marketing and sales teams have shifted their approach, but prospective residents are not shunning senior living over Covid-19 fears. Some providers have reported occupancy upticks during these first weeks of the pandemic, saying that families are seeing the benefits in having their loved ones in more secure settings with food, care and other services at hand. However, fears about Covid-19 spreading in congregate settings could suppress demand and lead to occupancy erosion as the situation continues, some industry analysts have predicted.