As COVID-19 cases rise across some parts of the country, a Southwest company’s innovative care model is garnering its own attention.
Phoenix-based Sun Health At Home has reached 100 members in its home-based continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), a unique aging-in-place concept that has been gaining traction in recent years. The CCRC-at-home model now seems to make even more sense for seniors in a post-COVID-19 world.
CCRCs, sometimes known as life plan communities, are long-term care living situations that allow seniors to age in the same place during their advanced years through an all-encompassing approach.
The communities offer a wide range of care and assistance to adjust to a senior’s needs as their health condition changes. There are close to 2,000 of these communities in the U.S., with typical monthly fees ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000, depending on various factors, according to AARP statistics.
Sun Health At Home — a part of the larger senior living provider Sun Health Communities — and other CCRC-at-home models apply the same concept of allowing members to comfortably age in place. The difference: Instead of a senior living community, CCRC-at-home models are built within a member’s own residence.
That’s become an emerging trend, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re hearing that across the board in the CCRCs and the PACE programs, [for instance],” Chris Hendrickson, managing director and a home health expert at Ziegler Healthcare Investment Banking, told Home Health Care News. “Anything that involves some type of resident, these programs are contemplating and starting to actually migrate more toward in- home models.”
Chicago-based Ziegler is a privately held investment bank, capital markets and proprietary investments firm. Among its focus areas, Ziegler deals with home health care, senior living and larger health systems, as well as other health care organizations.
After launching in 2016 as the first CCRC-at-home model in the Southwest, Sun Health At Home has been growing rapidly — attracting 28 new members per year, on average.
As of July 1, it had already had 19 new applicants in 2020, outpacing its usual member interest significantly. The great majority of those came during the COVID-19-stricken months, from March until now, Nicole Holtzclaw, membership counselor for Sun Health At Home, told HHCN.
“Since the start of COVID-19 here in Arizona, we have seen an increase in our application rate,” Holtzclaw said. “We have heard many folks echo similar concerns about avoiding a care facility, especially after reports of the virus spreading so rapidly. Providing in-home care reduces the risk of exposure and cross-contamination with other patients [and workers].”
The concept works through a wellness team that coordinates services to offer personalized support for the members. It’s a hybrid between traditional CCRCs and long-term insurance plans, all with the benefit of aging in place.
Members usually join while they’re still healthy, which takes a significant burden off of surrounding family members, keeping them from scrambling to look for the right care option once their loved one’s health condition has already significantly worsened.
The members receive a lifetime guarantee of care once they’ve opted into the program, as well as around-the-clock care.
It’s a model that readies itself for “life’s curveballs,” as Sun Health At Home puts it.
Having testimonials now to back up the model has been driving success for the company in 2020.
“The information about [our company] hasn’t changed, but our member testimonials and stories have shifted how we talk about the program’s services and benefits,” Holtzclaw said. “In one instance, a wellness coordinator fought for testing that uncovered a stage-1 cancer diagnosis that was overlooked by physicians. So, the journey to 100 members has proven the need for a program like [ours].”
The senior living space, where the CCRCs derive from, is changing.
The vast majority of adults wanted to age in place before the public health emergency, and a desire for safety and isolation has most likely accelerated that.
Additionally, senior living companies have been ravaged by COVID-19 in every facet of their business since March. Move-ins have stagnated and occupancy has fallen, which has driven revenue down.
All the while, expenses have shot up for hazard pay, personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing, according to Senior Housing News. Insurance premium costs have also become a cause of concern.
And the vast majority of providers don’t think the industry has hit rock bottom yet, according to a July survey by RCLCO Real Estate Advisors.
That disruption could aid the CCRC-at-home effort, which offers that aging-in-place aspect, but also may offer family members more sense of security given the senior living structure to the business.
The future of CCRC-at-home models
Another successful example of the CCRC-at-home concept is Springpoint Choice, an offshoot of Springpoint Senior Living, a Wall Township, New Jersey-based nonprofit provider of senior living communities throughout the Garden State and Delaware.
Springpoint Choice has nearly 290 members.
“There are some people that may have been planning on moving into a retirement community, but right now they’ve decided, ‘I think I’m just going to wait a little bit,’” Cecily Laidman, executive director of Springpoint Choice, told HHCN. “So they’re signing up for our program kind of as a holding pattern until they feel more comfortable moving into a community. So it can work for both the home programs as well as the communities at times.”
Springpoint also has a consulting arm. Without much marketing, it has received a marked uptick in inquiries regarding CCRC-at-home programs since the beginning of COVID-19, Laidman said.
“I think that we’re going to see a lot of organizations around the country seriously consider starting programs like this now,” Laidman said.
Currently, there are at least 30 CCRC-at-home programs in the country — a number that could increase as senior living companies diversify their business plans during and after COVID-19.
“We as an organization are seeing that these membership programs are definitely starting to get some legs,” Hendrickson said.
On its end, Sun Health At Home is aiming for 122 members by the end of 2020 and closer to 150 by the end of 2021.
The level of services is often what impresses prospective members, but can be a challenge when it comes to pricing. Some offer lifetime guarantees after one-time payments while others just require monthly payments; some do both.
“[The pricing] is definitely being sort of tested to see what that right point of elasticity is,” Hendrickson said. “That point where you’re going to gain adoption but not not feel like you’re carving into some valuable resources.”
In the future, providers in multiple sub-segments of health care could begin exploring these types of models if they have the resources, according to Hendrickson.
Companies are thinking of how they can participate in the rush to bring services into the home.
“It’s a way to wed yourself in different directions [as a provider] and leverage resources in a different way,” Hendrickson said.