The COVID-19 pandemic has been an existential crisis for the seniors housing industry, where the people most susceptible to the disease are the same who live in the communities. But many still believe in long-term viability and success of the sector.
That was the message of panelists in a discussion titled “Four Weeks Out from the General Election: A Policy Discussion” held at the 2020 NIC Fall Conference. Being held virtually this year due to the pandemic, the event is still going on this week.
Panelists included moderator Soledad O’Brien, a journalist and talk show host; Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of American Health Care Association/National Center For Assisted Living; and Andy Slavitt, former administrator for the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
“We are about four weeks away from the election, so it seems like a good time to have a policy discussion,” said O’Brien, asking the other panelists for first thoughts on the president and first lady testing positive for COVID-19.
“It throws another monkey wrench into an already challenging cycle,” said Parkinson. “It highlights the importance of folks wearing masks. Maybe it will be the wake-up call that some people needed.”
“A thin piece of cloth would’ve prevented this of happening,” added Slavitt. “This is not high-tech stuff. This is simple stuff.”
Slavitt also noted that the same day that the president’s results were released, 43,000 other Americans also tested positive.
“Many of those 43,000 work in the industry,” said O’Brien. “Is the industry prepared for a possible second wave?”
Parkinson contested that the industry is much better prepared for a potential second wave, particularly compared to the first wave when providers didn’t have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) or knowledge about the virus.
“For Phase II we’re in better shape. The policymakers have not done great, but the scientests have.”
Parkinson noted that there is better testing, more PPE and better treatments that have lowered mortality rates.
Future is still bright
When asked about the long-term health of the seniors housing industry, both Parkinson and Slavitt expressed optimism.
“We’re going to get through this,” said Parkinson. “This will continue to be a good space to invest in.”
In the short-term, though, he said it has been “a business disaster,” citing record-low occupancy rates and increased expenses.
“The good news is the gov recognizes we’re an essential service. Thank god for the CARES act funds.”
“The biggest problem on the business side is census hasn’t recovered yet,” concluded Parkinson. “The sector can’t recover until census comes back.”
For why he’s still optimistic, Parkinson noted that the industry is based on need, the demographic wave of baby boomers will fill units, and that he believes a vaccine is on the way.
“It will take a heck of a long time to vaccinate the whole country, but nursing homes will be prioritized,” he said. “It will be bumpy and it will take some time, but we will win the public’s confidence back. This will be a good space to be in eventually.”
Slavitt added that struggles like this pandemic also breed innovation and advancement.
“Healthcare has been a slow to move industry for a long time. It turns out when we have to, when safety is at risk, when people can’t be in close contact, we find new ways [to care for residents].”
Slavitt noted that the increase of telemedicine use is an example of this sort of advancement.
“This isn’t like the ping pong industry. This is an industry that everyone cares about. Everyone needs this community to be successful. It’s not too big to fail, it’s too important to fail.
“I love the fact that the industry is opening dialogues, talking to the White House and HHS [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] every day.”
The 2020 NIC Fall Conference continues through this week. This panel and all others can be viewed by registrants after the initial release time. Click here to register.
— Jeff Shaw