By Steve Moran

Broadly . . .

I am just home from the NIC spring conference in San Diego and it appears attendance was down by maybe 10%. The concern is real and legitimate. That being said, while I found COVID-19 to come up in nearly every conversation I had, it was more of the nature of small talk rather than “this is going to kill our business.”

I also ran a poll in our Senior Living Leadership Facebook Group that has about 2,200 members (and we would be glad to have you join it) asking about the impact of the Coronavirus on tours and move-ins. The sample size is super small but here is what group members are saying:

  • Most say the number of inquiries they are getting is unchanged, and this is good.
  • Most say the number of tours they are giving is down, which is also not surprising given the level of uncertainty and fear we seem to be embracing.
  • Some also said they are seeing no change in tours.
  • One comment was that they are actually seeing an uptick in new leads because neighboring communities have locked down.

Life Care Centers of Kirkland, Washington

I have been watching this story carefully since it broke, believing it is a tragic laboratory that will help us understand the worst case for senior living. I want to be careful here, I am not suggesting that the community leadership did anything wrong, but being first, they likely did not respond in the same way they would today or the way other senior living organizations will or are responding to cases and symptoms.

Also because it is a nursing home, the bad outcomes are almost certainly a magnification of what would happen in assisted living, memory care, and independent living communities.

As near as I can piece together, as of March 10 the situation there looks like this:

  • Before this all started, the facility had around 120 residents
  • There are 19 total deaths related to the facility so around 16%
  • There are currently around 55 residents in the facility.  In the latest round of testing:
    • 31 tested positive
    • 1 negative 
    • 2 inconclusive
    • 20 are still awaiting test results
  • Currently, 7 residents are showing symptoms, but not at a level of severity that would require transfer to a hospital
  • They had a total of 180 employees but have not yet tested all the employees; 70 have symptoms and 3 are hospitalized

What It All Means

I will qualify this by saying that I am not a medical professional and while I have been reading a lot, I have not run these bullet points by any medical professionals:

  • I have heard people say this is not really that much different than the flu. This is not true. Right now it appears to be way more contagious than the flu with the majority of the residents testing positive and/or being symptomatic. While nursing home residents are clearly more frail, they also tend to have less interaction with each other, so this should be a big concern.
  • Most concerning perhaps is the impact it is having on staff, with around 40% having symptoms.
  • The death rate also seems to be significantly higher than the flu, even in a nursing home setting.

For All of That

  • Way more people in the general population in China didn’t get sick than did get sick, and we should expect that to be true here as well.
  • Most people who are infected recover, even those who are age 60 and over, which is the most at-risk group of folks.
  • While the official/standard isolation period is 14 days, symptoms typically appear after 5 days.
  • In a few months, we will have vaccines and antiviral medications that will help blunt the impact. We will also have a much better understanding of what is working and what is not.
  • Older people will still need senior living.
  • There are many greater risks we face every day.

It is clear we need to be doing things a bit differently to protect residents, team members, and families. We need to be talking about why senior living is still a great option and how, in many cases, it can provide a safer, more secure environment than home or a hospital.

In the next few days, I will be releasing a video where we will be talking about selling senior living under the cloud of COVID-19.