Partnerships with skilled nursing facilities and real estate owners to develop properties that offer more integrated care environments for residents could become the norm as a result of the pandemic, according to one real estate expert. 

Kyra F. Howell

“Several in the long-term care industry believe that smaller SNFs with private rooms are the way of the future,” Kyra Fischbeck Howell, counsel with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, wrote in a new op-ed for Reuters. “While that may be the case, look for these facilities to be integrated with other real property assets to form structures that encompass a more holistic and integrated environment for the elderly.”

Howell practices in the firm’s group for commercial real estate and financial transactions.

Howell explained that the pandemic has forced operators to move toward more holistic models of SNF and long-term care after being routinely faced with the difficult choice of where and how to house COVID and non-COVID residents. 

The situation created the need for providers to increase their property infrastructure to ensure they can handle that type of burden in the future. That means realtors must also begin partnering with experts in the industry to advise each other on how to move forward, according to Howell. 

“Hospitals, SNFs, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities, social gathering places, fitness centers, entertainment venues — all of these are increasingly likely to co-exist in the future rather than be separate campuses,” she argued. “Does the infrastructure and physical plant exist for this sort of collaborative environment? Absolutely. Repurposing large, vacant real property structures for medical purposes is already happening.”

Howell noted that real estate experts can begin partnering with healthcare regulatory colleagues to better understand Medicaid and Medicare payment models, while legal experts should be aware of traditional leasing options beyond the standard owner/operator lease.

“If otherwise independent industries continue to collaborate on ways to solve this problem, it is likely that senior living and care will accelerate to an integrated model more quickly than it might have otherwise, with greater space utilization to thwart a recurrence of the rapid spread of a predatory virus such as we have seen,” Howell concluded. 

“These shifts will have benefits not only for the senior population seeking a more seamless solution to the challenges of the later years, but also for the property owners holding vacant buildings and care providers who, with the assistance of the government in preparing for these changes, can perhaps pursue a more supportive business model based on a collaborative set of services,” she added.