By Steve Moran
The stock market went crazy with Pfizer’s announcement that their early trials show a 90% effectiveness for their COVID-19 vaccine. And it is possible they will begin releasing it to the public by the end of November and that by the end of December they will have made enough doses to immunize 15-20 million people.
As I said, the stock market went crazy with the DJII climbing more than 1,600 points (5.7%) and senior living did great:
- Brookdale up $1.13 or a whopping 41%
- Five Star Senior Living up 11%
- Capital Senior Living up more than 7%
- Ventas up more than 7%
- Welltower up more than 11%
- LTC up more than 5%
There is no doubt that the release of a vaccine into the world will have a huge, positive impact on senior living. It will take some time for the vaccine to be deployed. But it seems likely that senior living will be high on the priority list.
There are clearly people who are fearful and reluctant to take the vaccine because the anti-vaxxers have been insanely effective in spreading fear where fear should not exist. I am old enough to remember the tail end of the last polio scare in the US and watched it be wiped out. I have also seen first-hand the devastation of polio. I spent my late teens and early twenties being a caretaker for a physician who contracted polio in Africa and was paralyzed from the neck down.
Because of that history, I would be happy to be John Q Public #1 to be vaccinated.
A Mixed Bag
On the plus side, there is likely some pent-up demand for senior living, and new construction starts are way down. Plus, in 2022 we will begin, maybe, to see some modest demographically driven increase in demand.
On the other hand, it was not all that great before the pandemic hit. And it will take time to distribute the vaccine and for people to forget about the perceived additional risks.
Most worrisome is that operators will breathe a big sigh of relief or even become jubilant as initial move-ins surge because of pent up demand. However, over the medium- and long-term, the challenges we already have will reemerge:
- Too much sameness in the product mix
- Uninspiring programming
- High costs
- Low team morale
- Lackluster marketing and sales
There is a tremendous reason though to be hopeful. Every single challenge listed above is solvable with very little monetary cost, though high emotional cost. I believe that even today, right now, that even in the face of COVID-19 it would have been possible for essentially every senior living community to be at or near 90% occupancy.
And if you are skeptical, at least 30% of all communities are there right now. Here is what it takes:
- Rethinking the work culture, both relationally and, yes, with respect to compensation.
- Creating programming that allows residents to grow, explore, and thrive. The programming you would want to have in your senior living community.
- Striving for excellence with all aspects of sales and marketing. I continue to hear story after story of people calling senior living communities looking for information but no one responds or responses take days.
I know it is possible to close at rates that are 2 and 3 times what most salespeople are doing by putting into place the right sales training program.
We can do this, we can rock. We can change the lives of so many more older people in this country, and the lives of our team members. We can impact the healthcare cost equation in unbelievable ways.