Phoenix Senior Living will begin providing care for people who in normal circumstances would be hospitalized, to help overburdened hospitals in Atlanta maintain capacity for the most critically ill patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Roswell, Georgia-based Phoenix operates 19 communities in its home state, with the majority of those buildings in and around Atlanta. Initially, three locations will participate in the company’s new Healthcare Partnership Program that was announced Thursday.
Under this program, Phoenix is working with multiple health care systems in Atlanta to take on patients who do not require 24-hour nursing care. These patients could include people who have milder cases of Covid-19 as well as patients with other conditions and diagnoses, Phoenix Founder and CEO Jesse Marinko told Senior Housing News.
The initiative puts Phoenix on the leading edge of a situation that is developing across the country.
As Covid-19 cases increase, hospitals are taking urgent steps to maintain bed capacity, including transferring less acute patients to alternative settings such as skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). In recent days, some experts in senior housing and care have said that private-pay assisted living communities will inevitably play a role in helping maintain hospital capacity.
Recognizing the pressing need for hospitals to maintain capacity, Phoenix leaders reached out to Atlanta health systems and found them very receptive to discussing options for cooperation, Marinko said.
Phoenix then identified secure buildings or areas within buildings that could be dedicated to hospital overflow patients.
A few “neighborhoods” within communities were repositioned for this new purpose, and Phoenix also is utilizing a building that was added through an acquisition but stood unoccupied, Marinko told SHN. The effort has required some residents to relocate.
“It definitely took coordination with the families, coordination with the residents, and the buy-in and understanding of why we’re doing this,” Marinko said. “I think it just goes to show everyone’s moral compass and the good people want to do right now.”
In terms of how much capacity Phoenix has to take on overflow patients, it’s “an ever-changing situation,” he explained. The company does not have a dramatic number of vacant units but is creating as much capacity as it can, and is considering ways to add more. For example, Phoenix has a new building set to open, and is exploring the possibility of getting a temporary license to use that location to support health system needs.
The question of how Phoenix will be paid for these patients’ housing and care also does not yet have a definitive answer, but the company is “trying to manage that with the health systems,” according to Marinko.
Senior care experts have floated the possibility of Medicaid or Medicare Advantage funds as a payment source for senior living providers that take on hospital overflow. Marinko declined to say whether these options specifically are on the table, but said a “multitude” of possibilities have been considered. Like most senior living providers across the United States, Phoenix operates almost entirely on a private-pay basis. Marinko would prefer to keep it that way, whether that means patients pay directly or health systems pay Phoenix.
Staffing is a challenge for senior living in the best of times, and could be another stumbling block to taking on additional patients as health systems become overburdened. People who come to Phoenix from the health systems will be cared for by the senior living company’s own staff.
“You’ve got to make sure that you’re marrying up the appropriate staff with the appropriate care,” Marinko said. “We’re being mindful about putting the appropriate people in place to be successful.”
So, workers who provide care for people with confirmed Covid-19 will not provide care to any other patients, and staff will be assigned based on their level of expertise. All workers will be trained in the use of personal protective equipment. Phoenix was among the earliest senior living providers to report a case of Covid-19 in one of its communities and learned valuable lessons in care and mitigation, Marinko said, noting that the individuals who tested positive are now on the mend.
Like other senior living providers across the country, Phoenix is making a concerted hiring effort right now. So far, the provider has not had notable success in recruiting laid-off hospitality workers, but that could change as the pandemic drags on, Marinko said.
Phoenix plans to take its first overflow patients quickly.
“We are currently actively working referrals, as we speak,” Marinko told SHN.
Still, he intends to move with all due caution as well, and notes that all incoming patients are still going through normal protocols for admission and signing respite and resident agreements.
The undertaking is a first for the company and unprecedented for the industry, so Marinko is acutely aware that Phoenix is taking a risk in venturing into the unknown. There are potential upsides as well, such as forging closer ties with health care systems in the company’s largest market, but these considerations did not drive the decision making, Marinko emphasized.
“We feel like the intent of the decision is a pure and good one, and so we’re hoping that outweighs whatever risks … are associated with it,” he said. “There [are] a lot of people in need right now … that’s what this decision is all about, nothing more.”