By Elizabeth George

COVID-19 is putting unprecedented pressures on our healthcare system and professionals, medical equipment suppliers, and a host of other industries deemed both essential and non-essential. And people are rising up to meet the challenge.

Beyond the health crisis, there’s another challenge of course — the uncertainty around our economy. Record numbers of individuals have filed for unemployment, entire industries and small businesses are facing dire questions about viability, and Americans are concerned about their financial futures.

Even before COVID-19, the senior housing industry had been experiencing a mixture of immense opportunity combined with challenges around affordability.

Opportunity? We’re familiar with the numbers:

  • 74.1 million baby boomers born between 1946-1964
  • 10,000 baby boomers turn age 65 every day and 4,000 turn age 85 every day
  • 7 out of 10 Americans over age 65 will require long-term care
  • Alzheimer’s diagnosis is expected to nearly triple to 14 million by 2050

But, according to a study published just last year in the journal Health Affairs, more than half of America’s seniors considered “middle income” won’t be able to afford assisted living and other forms of senior housing a decade from now. “While many of these seniors will likely need the level of care provided in senior housing, we project that 54 percent of seniors will not have sufficient financial resources to pay for it,” the study says.

It’s an issue the industry had been working hard to figure out before this crisis.

Necessity Has Always Been the Mother of Invention

RCare, a global provider of wireless nurse call and personal emergency response systems and a Senior Living Foresight partner, has always focused on the full range of the senior housing market. Says RCare’s founder and CEO, Myron Kowal, “Our mission is to improve the lives of all seniors, regardless of financial status.”

Kowal is optimistic about the industry’s ability to rise to the challenge even amid COVID-19. “Innovation often emerges from constraints and the need to solve practical and pressing problems.”

RCare sees a few things happening as a result of the dearth of affordable housing options:

  • More seniors will age at home for as long as they can: The aging in place movement is growing rapidly with a large portion of care still being handled by families. Approximately 65 million Americans provide unpaid care for someone 50 and older. According to Nick Garofoli, RCare’s Director of Operations and Technology, “Families believe they are doing the right thing for a loved one by helping them remain in their home. But often, they become overwhelmed quickly by the demands of caregiving. And for older adults who suffer from dementia, keeping them healthy and safe at home becomes nearly impossible.”
  • New housing models will continue to emerge: Creating senior housing options for the middle and lower ends of the market has always been challenging. And on top of this challenge, baby boomers don’t want to age like previous generations. Studies show that baby boomers want to be part of a community, live close to family and among other generations, and they want to remain as active as possible.

    Some organizations are rising to the challenge with out-of-the-box thinking. Says Garofoli, “We’re inspired by the innovative housing options that are emerging, particularly those with a multigenerational approach. It benefits the seniors who love the youthful energy, and the young people who benefit from the wisdom of their senior role models. And I say this from experience: my own daughter has started attending an intergenerational daycare, and it’s great.”
  • Technology will play a much bigger role: As the demand for affordable housing continues to grow, technology will play a large role in minimizing operational costs. RCare, for example, recently launched the HCube, a product designed for providers of affordable housing for low-income seniors. The HCube offers the same critical capabilities of RCare’s flagship wireless nurse call technologies but at a fraction of the cost, a powerful answer to the increasing pressures of staffing constraints.

“We’re very committed to this market,” says Kowal, “and we will keep innovating to make sure there are enough providers to meet the growing needs of these seniors.”

For information on RCare and its affordable housing product HCube, click here.