Compared to April 2019, consumer inquiries into senior living communities decreased 41% last month, and move-ins were down 22%.
That’s according to data from more than 2,200 communities, compiled and analyzed by Enquire, a company that offers customer relationship management, marketing automation and contact center solutions to the industry.
The numbers help quantify the stark challenges that Covid-19 presents, but the data set also includes some surprising findings that suggest independent living in particular could be resilient — and the results also show that it’s hard to generalize about how the pandemic is affecting operators across different markets.
Enquire’s data highlights that providers were off to a good start this year before Covid-19 hit in mid-March.
“For January and February, most care levels were tracking with or above 2019 numbers, so that’s great,” Enquire Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer Erin Hayes told Senior Housing News.
In April, a sharp dropoff occurred in inquiries received via calls, emails, referrals and the web. In states that have been hard-hit by Covid-19, inquiries have dropped especially dramatically. For assisted living and memory care providers in New York, the average number of inquiries declined 62% in April 2020 compared to April 2019. Independent living communities in New York saw inquiries decline 65%.
Across all regions of the country, assisted living and memory care experienced about a 40% year-over-year decline in inquiries last month. In the Northeast — which includes New York and other Covid-19 hotspot states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts — that decline in inquiries was worse, at about 50%.
Yet, dramatically bucking that trend, independent living communities in the Northeast actually saw a 61% increase in inquiries in April 2020 compared April 2019. This was the only region in which IL inquiries increased on a year-over-year basis last month. The number surprised Hayes, who attributes it to the fact that large portions of the Northeast are more rural than the urban centers where the coronavirus has taken a steep toll.
Some industry stakeholders have suggested that independent living could be hit especially hard by Covid-19. Because it is a less needs-driven product than assisted living or memory care, the thinking is that older adults may put off a move into independent living due to financial constraints or fear over living in a communal environment. But, on a nationwide basis, IL inquiries held up better than standalone assisted living and standalone memory care inquiries last month, on a year-over-year basis.
Being a less clinical environment may help sustain the appeal of independent living. There have been bad headlines about Covid-19 in nursing homes, and care settings such as assisted living can get “jumbled together” with nursing homes in consumers’ minds, Hayes noted.
“But for independent living, they associate it more, I would say, with multifamily,” she said. “So in that case, I wasn’t that surprised that people are still selling their homes or having to go to a new rental — maybe their lease is up.”
As inquiries have fallen and community tours have had to go virtual, it stands to reason that move-ins would also slow.
Compared to 2019, April move-ins were down 61% in independent living, 62% in assisted living, 58% in assisted living/memory care, 39% in memory care and 59% for continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs).
The good news is that move-outs also have slowed down as a result of Covid-19. Year-to-date, communities are averaging a 15% decrease in move-outs compared to the same period in 2019.
“It’s indicative of consumer confidence remaining in the senior living industry, which is contrary to a lot of what we hear on the news,” Hayes said.
So, the data present a mixed picture in some regards, but trends should become clearer over time as Enquire continues to compile this analysis on a monthly basis, Hayes said. In the meantime, she cautions that senior living providers should not read too much into the averages, as their situations will be different based on their unique product offerings and market dynamics.
“When I talk to people about these numbers, the averages are great, but it’s also an average — looking at your own data and looking at your variance in comparison becomes important,” she said.