While few industries have been left unscathed by the impacts of the COVID-19 emergency, the senior housing market has been one of the hardest hit. But a decline in senior housing occupancy could leave room for in-home care providers to step up and fill long-term care gaps.
Overall, senior housing occupancy hit a record low in the second quarter of 2020.
Specifically, occupancy in independent living, assisted living, memory care and nursing care fell 2.8 percentage points in Q2 2020, declining from 87.7% in Q1 to 84.9%, according to new data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).
NIC’s findings are the largest quarterly decline since the organization began reporting this data more than a decade ago.
“Without question, the data shows there was a huge impact,” Bob Kramer, founder and strategic advisor at NIC, told Home Health Care News. “I think this came about for a number of reasons. Many providers shut down new admissions and new tours, or at the very least did them on a very careful basis. When you combine public fear of the setting with the mandated ban on new move-ins, that’s going to have an effect.”
The NIC data shows that assisted living occupancy, in particular, saw a significant decline. Assisted living occupancy decreased by 3.2 percentage points to 82.1% in Q2.
“That stands to reason because people who utilize assisted living are frailer,” Kramer said. “They have more chronic conditions and a greater need for assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). There is more intimate contact with the staff.”
While it’s still too soon to tell when senior housing occupancy levels will return to pre-COVID numbers, a desire to avoid these settings could open the door for in-home care providers to attract would-be residents.
“Clearly, it’s an opportunity,” Kramer said. “Right now, there are fears, by some, about congregate settings. There’s a desire to be able to age in place. I think it will be a huge boon to those that are aging-in-place facilitators — and those that provide home care and home health.”
That said, one thing providers looking to hone in on this population will need to address is the potential for social isolation.
One of the main attractions of senior housing is the social aspect of living in these communities, according to Kramer.
“If you look at seniors housing as only providing care, this is a great boon to those who provide care to people in the home,” he said. “The reality is the greatest selling point of senior housing is not the care. That’s often the reason why people move in, but its greatest selling point is social engagement and human connection.”
On this front, many providers have already began taking steps and creating initiatives to address social isolation among seniors.
Omaha, Nebraska-based Right at Home, for example, began offering free call-checking services at many of its locations. The company also partnered with local musicians and theater groups to stream events for clients.
Seniors already faced social isolation, but the public health emergency compounded this, Brian Petranick, CEO and president of Right at Home previously told HHCN.
“It’s often difficult to get out and do the things that they like to do in normal times,” he said. “It’s difficult [for seniors] to go to church, get to the store or different things like that. Now, I think what’s happened during the pandemic is that this has been exacerbated. It’s been, partly, exacerbated due to the fact that family members now can’t come into the house, in some cases.”
Right at Home is a home care franchise system with nearly 500 U.S. locations. Right at Home and Right at Home International are wholly-owned subsidiaries of RiseMark Brands.
Looking at the 31 primary markets that NIC follows, San Jose, San Francisco, Baltimore and Tampa had the highest seniors housing occupancy levels in Q2. Houston, Atlanta and Las Vegas had the lowest occupancy levels.