How Covid-19 Is Transforming Senior Housing Buildings, Business, Health Care Delivery

Coming out of Covid-19, senior housing will undergo transformations in three crucial areas: better integration of health care in communities; reassessing the built environment to provide a sharper focus on wellness and lifestyle; and addressing new and long-standing issues that impact operations.

Some of these transformations are new, while others have been accelerated by the pandemic. And they will require creative thinking and new partnerships to achieve.

These were the main takeaways during a webinar Wednesday hosted by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), featuring leaders with The Springs Living, Brandywine Living and Ocean Healthcare.


Providers must adapt quickly to the trends in order to meet the needs — and demands — of future seniors entering the space, said Fee Stubblefield, founder and CEO of The Springs Living.

The McMinnville, Oregon company operates 18 communities in Oregon and Montana, and the evolution in areas such as environmental systems, infection control procedures, workforce recruitment and retention, and communication highlighted that senior housing is no longer a pure lifestyle choice.

“We have to evolve, because the younger generation that’s moving in is a completely different person [with] different expectations,” he said.


Deeper layers of health care

Senior housing had been gradually adding elements of health care into its operations prior to 2020. Covid-19 accelerated the process across the industry, caught many providers unaware, and demand for telehealth services in congregate settings exploded in conjunction with restrictions on communities.

Years ago, The Springs Living launched a telehealth clinic in one of its communities which offered services to residents, as well as to staff on a subscription basis. It was well-received and provided learning experiences for the operator’s next forays into adding health care to its services.

The Springs Living’s newer communities are staffed with concierge-style health care services, in partnership with local health providers, with in-house clinics and offices for residents to have their health care needs addressed without having to spend the majority of their day at a doctor’s office.

Stubblefield envisions a future where seniors can access health care, based on the pace and quality of the lifestyle experienced in a community setting. This means that more layers of health care will be integrated into senior housing, but this must be done without compromising the social environment operators seek to establish.

One of the lessons The Springs Living learned from the pandemic was the importance of full alignment between the company and its support services partners. Ensuring that relationships are not purely transactional will provide better outcomes for residents, operators and their service partners.

“[A transactional-based relationship] doesn’t help the care process,” he said.

Providers must also evolve and invest in infrastructure to enable more positive health outcomes, as well. Doing so can relieve the stress placed on hospitals pushed to capacity, and prove to prospective residents and their families the positive impact of the environment they are considering moving into.

“[There are] opportunities for us to impact the healthcare system and the quality of life for our residents,” he said.

Building Disneyland

As clinical services plant deeper roots in senior housing, providers will need to balance health care with the lifestyle component that is still the focal point of sales and marketing campaigns, said Maria Nadlestumph, senior vice president of the Center of Excellence for Brandywine Living. The Mount Laurel, New Jersey-based provider operates 35 communities in seven states.

“We don’t want [health care] to be in your face; it’s there when you need it,” she said.

Providers must look for ways to emphasize the lifestyle component in current buildings, and develop the communities of the future that tomorrow’s residents will find desirable. The ultimate goal is to make senior housing a choice for future generations, rather than a need.

“They’ll relate to wanting to have a cocktail in the pub, put their feet up, and have a couple of laughs with their girlfriends,” she said.

Providers must focus on creating environments where people can’t wait to get old enough to move in, which Stubblefield compared to going to Disneyland.

“As an industry, we have to continue to become more sophisticated and sensitive [to future demand],” he said

Additionally, providers need to reassess the built environment for employees, and create great physical environments that foster strong workplace relationships and culture.

“Buildings have to evolve, to continue to attract talent that want to work there and create an environment that’s supportive to them,” he said.

Addressing labor issues

A dearth of labor continues to present challenges to attracting new talent to senior living.

But the recognition health care workers received for their work during Covid-19 may signal a sea change for future recruitment, Ocean Healthcare Senior Vice President/Chief Strategy Officer, Network Development Joe Kiernan said.

He believes the pandemic brought a level of respect for the work being done by the health care industry, from doctors and nurses to nursing assistants and frontline staff at senior housing communities, which he likens to first responders being thanked for their service. And savvy providers can leverage that to bring in new talent.

But the industry cannot rely on that, alone. Brandywine is balancing recruiting new talent with growing referral pipelines from current employees, as they can be the best salespeople for a career in the industry, Nadlestumph said.

“We need to put a sense of urgency around this,” she said.

The Springs Living plans to evolve its human resources capabilities to gain a better understanding of its employees, in order to improve retention.

“We’re hiring people, but our back door is too big,” he said.

This will involve taking the lessons of the past year, listening to employees and giving them agency in their career paths and the daily operations of communities.

“Our raw material is our labor,” he said. “We have a great puzzle to figure out, and we will.”

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