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COMMENTARY: The current state of senior housing in America amid COVID-19

COMMENTARY: The current state of senior housing in America amid COVID-19

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The senior population in the United States is projected to grow, and by 2050, it is estimated that over a fifth of the population in the country will be 65 years old or older. The need for senior housing is increasing, and the on-going pandemic significantly impacted the senior population. Adults aged 65 and older have accounted for roughly 80% of all COVID-19 deaths, and many of these deaths have occurred within long-term facilities across the nation. However, as the population continues to grow, more seniors will require long-term care.

In 2017 the National Senior Campuses organization reported over 19,000 senior living units across the United States, and it is estimated that around 7% of older people need help with personal care. As the boomer population reaches 65, the senior population is projected to reach 83.7 million, almost double the estimated number in 2012.

Approximately 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 20 years. The growing senior population creates an increased demand for housing. The global home health care sector is estimated to see revenues grow $300 billion in 2020 due to the growing need for senior housing care.

Overall, occupancy pressures continue for senior living because construction is based on population levels five or more years out. However, the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic may affect how seniors are choosing to live and how senior housing is built. In 2019, the occupancy rates fluctuated in the second quarter and then rose again in the third quarter, and experts believe occupancy rates continued to be a pressure point during 2020.

Additionally, the aging baby boomers will experience a significant increase in the number of middle-income seniors aged 75 or more over the coming years. Creative and alternative solutions will be needed to serve millions of seniors that lack the financial ability for senior care and housing. For example, this may involve implementing less costly models of care, more cost-effective construction options, repurposing existing real estate, and introducing the use of technology to drive efficiencies. However, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed senior living’s social setting, which could impact how seniors continue to live post-pandemic.

The pandemic has already caused many seniors to consider whether long-term care is too risky. Millions of Americans have purchased insurance to help pay for nursing or home health care and are now facing tough choices as the pandemic continues. During the summer of 2020, occupancy in senior housing hit a 15-year low.

In 2008, the number of assisted living facilities and independent living centers grew by 33%. However, occupancy rates slid 2.8% in the second quarter of 2020. Senior living facilities across the country closed their doors to visitors, canceled activities, and quarantined residents in their apartments.

Although, there is still concern about the virus as case numbers fluctuate across the United States. Per ECDOL, older Americans are most likely to see the outbreak as a major threat to their health. Yet, industry strategies have continued to change to ensure residents are kept safe and maintain a high standard of physical and mental health.

Yet, there will be significant challenges ahead as many long-term facilities will have to address staff shortages. As the senior population continues to grow, facilities will have to find new and more effective ways to recruit and retain staff to meet the care needs, which have increased during COVID.

Additionally, this means cultivating a healthier work environment. During the pandemic, it has become essential to safeguard staff’s health as they care for sick patients. Moreover, it involves building a workplace culture where the staff is rewarded for their efforts. The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought to light the need for more focus on person-centered care and keeping seniors independent for as long as possible.

Finally, senior housing across the country must continue to embrace new technology such as web-based tools and telehealth to make jobs easier for caregivers and keep seniors connected to loved ones, family members, and care providers. The state of senior housing in America continues to change, and it is changing rapidly as the pandemic continues into 2021, forcing the industry to catch up to the growing needs of an aging population.

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