‘This Isn’t Sustainable’: Covid-19 Testing Pushes Senior Living Providers Closer to Financial Crises

The financial burdens of the coronavirus pandemic have squeezed senior living margins for months — but some providers are now openly wondering how much longer they can operate normally without an even greater level of federal support.

The federal government has pledged to offer some support to the private-pay sector, both in the form of additional funding and Covid-19 antigen tests. But as the pressure continues and the pandemic shows no sign of letting up, some providers say it’s not nearly enough, especially during a time when many of their peers fear imminent financial failure.

Morningside Ministries, a San Antonio, Texas-based non-profit provider with two life plan communities, expects to spend between $30,000 and $60,000 per week on Covid-19 testing for residents and staff in the weeks ahead. But that is simply not sustainable in the long-term without some kind of outside assistance, according to Patrick Crump, the organization’s president and CEO.


“Our best-case scenario is we have about 20 weeks,” Crump said during a LeadingAge press conference Wednesday. “Our worst-case scenario is we have about 10 weeks of reserves to fund the required testing.”

LeadingAge is a trade group that represents non-profit providers of senior services, such as housing and care.

Friendship Haven, a single-site life plan community in Fort Dodge, Iowa, is also struggling with the increased cost of testing residents and staff for Covid-19. And without more federal support, President and CEO Julie Thorson is afraid the provider “might lose that fight,” imperiling the quality of care for its more than 300 residents.


“Testing is good, but when you can’t pay for testing or afford to pay for testing long term, it’s a serious problem,” said Thorson. “Passing on costs to residents? That isn’t the answer … the answer is, we need more federal funding.”

Morningside Ministries and Friendship Haven are just two of the senior living providers struggling to maintain current operations in the face of financial pressures caused by Covid-19. And it’s a trend that is playing out in other parts of the country, as well, as providers continue to bear a higher cost of testing for Covid-19.

For example, members of Arizona LeadingAge are spending approximately $67,000 per month on personal protective equipment (PPE), and $83,000 a month on testing alone, according to Pam Koester, CEO of Arizona LeadingAge. Some long-term care providers in Oklahoma have even spent more on PPE in one month than they had during an entire year before Covid-19, said Mary Brinkley, executive director of LeadingAge Oklahoma.

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And while the financial pressure is a difficult burden for some providers, for others, it is already one they couldn’t bear any longer, according to LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan. Just yesterday, Sloan learned of a third LeadingAge nursing home that is in the midst of closing due to the pandemic, and a fourth that is on the verge of closure.

“If these providers keep shuttering, what will happen to the older adults they serve, or those who will need their services in the future?” Sloan said. “The care that our members provide is simply unsustainable without a new federal lifeline.”

Providers are soldiering on the best they can while hoping that more help is on the way. But in the meantime, quality of care is on the line.

For example, there are some LeadingAge Oklahoma providers that are currently not able to meet their direct care staffing needs of five hours per day, given the rate of new and large fines, regulations and constant worker shortages.

“What’s going to happen is, there won’t be as much direct care staff available, and staff will be taking care of visitation and regulatory requirements,” Brinkley said. “And at the end of the day, the lives of these residents will be compromised if we don’t have adequate funds and staffing available.”

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