Image of clinician speaking remotely with older adult patient via a desktop computer

Some lines among skilled nursing, assisted living, memory care and independent living communities have become blurred in the COVID-19 era, noted panelists during an online webinar hosted by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care on Wednesday.

The NIC Leadership Huddle identified trends operators must contend with in the post-pandemic world.

“We all had to be part of the solution,” said panelist Fee Stubblefield, founder and CEO of The Springs Living. “We’ve all been thrown into this together because … we’ve had to evolve in areas like environmental infection control, how we deal with our workforce, how we communicate. Environmental systems are definitely here to stay.”

Technology changes are part of the future, Stubblefield said. Telehealth has worked very well, so it is probably here to stay too, he added.

Members of the younger generation are not going to be satisfied with going to multiple medical appointments in several locations, for example, said Stubblefield, adding that convenience matters.

“That healthcare support has to be latent,” he said.

“We need to be not in-your-face about it. We need it to be there when you want it,” added moderator Maria Nadelstumph, senior vice president of the Brandywine Center of Excellence for Brandywine Living. Working with partners is a way for operators to achieve a balance, she added.

Another lesson from the pandemic is the significance of worker satisfaction, panelists said. In addition to improving the environment for residents, providers should pay attention to improving the work experience for the caregivers, Stubblefield explained.

As the industry struggles to retain workers, providers will need to increase pay to compete with other markets, panelists agreed.

“Labor is our raw materials. This is their time,” Stubblefield said. “The market must respond.”

It’s also important to create a sense of urgency to woo prospective caregivers, Nadelstumph said. “We need to make a dedicated effort.”

Communities that have done better maintaining or regaining census seemed to be good at communicating and implementing vague government guidelines, panelists said.

Providers have found that lifestyle is an important component of senior living, especially when residents were isolated from the outside world during the past year. 

It’s important to create an environment where people really want to live, speakers said. Operators should strive to bring a “Disney World level of excitement” to prospective residents, Stubblefield added.