As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt all facets of the senior care industry, providers can take solace in knowing that consumers are still seeking out senior living, and most are still accepting new residents.
However, this message — that many senior living communities are still welcoming new residents who may have pressing needs — is getting lost amongst a lot of noise.
This is understandable, on the surface. Providers are scrambling to ensure the safety of their residents and staff, procure personal protective equipment and other supplies to continue operations, addressing lower move-ins and the elimination of in-person tours, and combat the growing sense of isolation felt by residents.
But the longer providers do not pay attention to messaging, the harder it will be to show that their communities are still open for business and that measures are in place to ensure the safety of residents and new move-ins, A Place for Mom CEO Larry Kutscher told SHN.
In fact, third-party referral services such as New York City-based A Place for Mom, the largest such service in the industry, indicate that their platforms are seeing more searches from users interested in moving into senior housing, based on need.
Senior living providers that do not take steps to reach and serve these consumers are missing a short-term opportunity and may be doing a longer-term disservice to the industry’s reputation.
Inside the data
A recent survey from A Place for Mom revealed that over 90% of the 17,000 providers that use the service reported that they are taking in new residents — with heightened screening and quarantine periods — and conducting virtual tours. Moreover, as of April 14, 600 communities are testing for Covid-19.
Other data also confirms that most senior living communities are still accepting new residents. Move-ins are declining, but that’s due primarily to a slowdown in lead conversions and sales, not outright bans on people moving in, according to data collected between April 1 and April 12 by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).
As referrals and move-ins decline, sales and marketing teams for providers across the country are curious on what prospects and their families, as well as their peers, are doing, Roobrik founder and CEO Nate O’Keefe told SHN. Based in Durham, North Carolina, Roobrik’s platform uses assessments to engage and educate prospects starting the buying process. These assessments are then used to provide senior living sales teams with actionable insights..
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Roobrik’s analysis reveals that half of the 35 operators that use its platform are still accepting move-ins, with additional protections in place. Those operators represent 500 communities.
When specifically asked how Covid-19 might impact prospects’ decision process, 48% said they don’t think it “will make a difference,” 29% believe it will cause them to delay their decision, and 4% say they would now consider making a decision sooner.
As providers exit the scramble to secure their communities and enact Covid-19 protocols, these data points reinforce that sales and marketing teams should focus on working their referral pipelines, and that the industry as a whole can get out the message that — despite visitor restrictions and the need for extreme caution — senior housing communities are not sealing themselves off from older adults who need a safe place to live.
“In the last two weeks of March, we saw that most providers were in crisis mode trying to get their bearings. In April, they started taking a closer look at their pipelines to see the impact on traffic and leads, and asking new questions: Do we need to adjust our investment in marketing? Do we need to adapt our messaging? Do we actively address Covid-19 or just make information available for those seeking it? ” O’Keefe said.
Controlling the message
A Place for Mom instituted daily, real-time updates from larger providers on their Covid-19 response plans. This information is relayed to the platform’s advisors to assist families in need of making a more informed decision, Kutscher told SHN.
The information that APFM is receiving only highlights the need for consistent, clear information to be disseminated to consumers.
“[Researching a move] is an overwhelming, confusing experience. Covid has only made it much worse,” he said.
The silence of providers during the early weeks of the pandemic is doing them no favors, G5 Vice President, Senior Living Jamison Gosselin told SHN. Based in Bend, Oregon, G5 uses artificial intelligence to help clients in senior housing, multifamily and self-storage real estate improve their marketing and sales processes. Gosselin previously led marketing and communications for independent living giant Holiday Retirement.
G5 released a report exploring the impact Covid-19 has had on senior living sales and marketing. Analysis of Google Trends for senior living, assisted living and nursing homes revealed that searches for senior living and assisted living began trending downward in late February, while searches for nursing homes increased during the same time period.
A deeper dive into the keywords being used tells a richer story. The acceleration in nursing home searches were tied to coronavirus or Covid-19, dovetailing with reports of outbreaks in nursing homes across the country.
Meanwhile, keywords tied to assisted living and senior living such as “near me” and “costs of” continued to rank high, indicating that seniors are still researching for possible transitions to senior housing.
Gosselin believes that the sheer volume of reports of Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing facilities has casual observers believing that all long-term care facilities are nursing homes, which is a messaging problem.
“We need to do a better job of communicating what senior housing is. Senior housing is about lifestyle. Nursing homes are strictly health care,” he said.
Kutscher has been impressed by the response of providers to keep their residents and staffs safe in the early stages of the outbreak, but echoes Gosselin’s belief that they should be doing a better job of telling their stories.
“We’re not getting that message out at all. The industry is being extremely quiet and waiting for Covid to just go away,” he said.
A Place for Mom launched a new campaign, “On This Day,” to create awareness for the efforts of all caregivers in keeping seniors safe and well cared for during the Covid-19 era.
The campaign was launched in part because providers are focused on multiple operational pressures stemming from the pandemic. Because they have to prioritize more pressing issues such as procuring personal protective equipment for staff, or controlling cost overruns, simply letting the public know how they are responding is an afterthought.
“There’s a [belief] that if we just focus on taking care of a residence and do our jobs really well, we don’t have to worry about messaging to the outside world about the role of senior living in the world. And I just don’t think that’s true,” Kutscher said.
With the early confusion from the pandemic easing and communities settling into protracted shelter orders, experts agree that now is the time to maintain relationships with prospects who are seriously considering a move to senior housing.
Roobrik has gathered data that further reveals ongoing interest in senior living even in the midst of Covid-19.
● 73% are somewhat-to-very open-minded about making a change
● 81% are either making decisions on their own, or with positive support from their family
● 68% own their home, with 41% having paid off their mortgage
● 68% are somewhat-to-very financially confident
● 37% have minimal-to-low care needs, while the remainder (63%) would benefit from supportive care.
Despite these encouraging numbers gleaned from prospects who visit operator websites, it is true that new leads are down.
G5’s study revealed that new leads declined 31.5% from February to March, and 43.1% year over year. Total new leads from online channels declined only 19%, however.
Sales and marketing teams working remotely can be more proactive nurturing leads that were developed before the pandemic, communicating in a transparent manner with stakeholders in a move, and showing how providers are working to maintain the resident experience during shutdowns.
Gosselin believes that these campaigns should prioritize the following:
- Providing factual info on what is being done to reduce chance of infection and create an engaging environment
- Creating a stylistic message of positivity and reassurance
- Thinking about prospects entertaining the move to senior housing
Video is the easiest tool at marketing teams’ disposal. For example: Teams can chronicle residents having group activities such as bingo nights in hallways, while honoring the guidance for safe social distancing. Those videos can then be packaged in myriad ways. They can be used in e-newsletters, posted to communities’ websites and social media channels, and directly to prospects and stakeholders, who can then ask questions and have them answered.
“You can communicate substance and style with video,” Gosselin said.
But whatever medium they choose to use, engaging with consumers is critical. Providers who do not take the initiative to get their stories out to the public run the risk of having negative perceptions become reality, making it harder for teams to nurture their leads.
“I feel a real urgency that this industry focuses on what message we’re sending, and how we explain what we’re doing,” Kutscher said.