New Perspective Senior Living has opened not one but two communities in the middle of the COVID-19 insanity. The first is a 128-unit independent living, assisted living, and memory care community in Waukesha, Wisconsin. And the second is a 149-unit IL, AL, & MC in Franklin, Wisconsin. They opened one in August and the other in July. Recently I had a chance to talk to Chris Hyatt, the president of New Perspective about how they made this happen and the lessons they learned.
They were legitimately concerned about public perception of senior living and the impact that might have, particularly to those who had reserved units. It turned out they needn’t have worried. They have actually exceeded their move-in projections.
- By the time the communities opened, they had a good handle on what was working (and what was not working) to keep residents and staff safe with respect to COVID-19.
- The most surprising insight was that while you would assume that the highest demand would be for the need-driven assisted living and memory care units, it was exactly the opposite. The prospects who were most enthusiastic about moving in were the independent living residents. Between 80% and 90% of them were ready to move in during the pandemic.
- They started move-in with independent living for several reasons. Because they were not licensed, they had a lot more flexibility in how to manage the move-ins, dining, and other aspects of the resident experience.
- By starting with independent living there were a lot fewer things to go wrong. And in opening a new building there are always things that don’t go exactly right. It also gave team members extra time to come up to speed with the new building without the pressure of needing to care for more frail residents.
- Because of the pandemic they did not do any of the usual opening things, like ribbon cuttings, and open houses with local dignitaries and celebrities. They didn’t have the ability to tour people through the building as the construction was finishing. They just went straight to a soft opening. It had zero negative impact on hitting occupancy goals.
- Through the process, they continued to take all prudent precautions: masks, lots of cleaning, screening at the front desk. They selected a couple of preferred movers who understand and would work with the safety precautions of the communities.
- They do have communal dining, but by reservation only, to avoid people congregating around the door to the dining room and with appropriate social distancing.
- They are also doing small group activities.
- The first week they averaged one move-in a day, then the next week a bit more aggressive, one or two on Monday and 2 or 3 a day after that but never more than one move-in at a time.
It still meant a lot more people in and out of the community, so I asked if they have had any COVID-19 positive residents or team members and the answer was no.
It seems clear that COVID-19 is a 9/11 type moment in history where things will never go back to the way they were. We will continue to be much more deliberate about sanitation and infection protection. This will likely pay huge dividends. These two communities are a great early indication of what the new normal will look like, what success will look like.
COVID-19 & the Flu
Senior living has always accepted that the flu season was going to be dangerous for residents. And that no matter what you did there was going to be an increase in resident deaths because of the flu. But Chris asked a great question. What if over the last 20 years team members and residents all wore masks, gloves, and gowns everyday during flu season? It may very well have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. It is fascinating to think that maybe, just perhaps, this will be the least deadly flu season we have ever experienced because of COVID-19.