Operators Plan for Logistical Complications of COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Now approved for use in the United States, the first round of COVID-19 vaccines has officially landed. Employees and residents in assisted living and skilled nursing communities are in the first group slated to receive the immunization.

While this is a strong sign that an end is on the horizon for a pandemic that has disproportionately affected seniors housing, it comes with a new challenge. Operators must now find a way to handle the complicated logistics of implementing the vaccine to millions of caregivers and residents.

“It’s the first sign of hope of the future of a normal life,” said Terri Cunliffe, president and CEO of Covenant Living Communities & Services. “This will be a big challenge throughout 2021 as people go through the process of vaccination. We have to manage that, and also remind people that this one vaccine does not mean the mask goes away and the distancing ends.”

Cunliffe’s comments came during a panel titled “The Power Panel: CEOs Discuss The State of the Industry” during the InterFace Seniors Housing Investment, Development and Operations conference, held virtually last week. Other panelists included Bill Pettit, president and chief operating officer, R.D. Merrill Co.; Brenda Bacon, president and CEO, Brandywine Living; Michael Stoller, managing partner and CEO, LCB Senior Living; Lynne Katzmann, founder and CEO, Juniper Communities; and moderator Allen McMurtry, senior vice president of seniors housing, Grandbridge Real Estate Capital.

One of the top concerns among the operators was how to fight misinformation regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Bacon noted that educating employees, residents and families on the vaccine will be key to getting people to voluntarily take it. This will take a concerted effort on the part of operators to communicate well from the top of the company and through all departments.

“But I’ll take those problems any day of the week compared to what we’ve been dealing with,” said Bacon. “This vaccine is a wonderful thing for our families, our team members and our businesses. Our businesses have suffered. We’ve got to rebuild consumer confidence. This vaccine will help do that.”

When McMurtry asked about making the vaccine mandatory, Bacon said she “wasn’t sure whether we’ll be able to do that” and that Brandywine would pursue “an intensive education campaign stressing how fortunate we are to be first in line for this vaccine.”

Katzmann, however, said that Juniper recently decided that receiving the vaccine would be “a condition of employment for our team members unless they have a medical reason why they should not.”

“We’ve been given a very unique opportunity to put the lives of our residents first and protect our extended family. Now is the time,” she said.

Katzmann added that the company also calls each resident’s family at least three times a week with coronavirus updates, and those calls include education on the details, importance and safety of the vaccine.

Both Katzmann and Bacon said they plan to be the first in the company to receive the vaccine, to show their confidence in its safety to their employees and residents.

Stoller said that LCB is surveying employees, residents and their families to “determine what the appetite is for getting the vaccine.” He noted that it’s unlikely the company will make the vaccine mandatory. “We would like to see everybody get vaccinated, but it’s not clear that we can really accomplish that.”

An additional challenge, though, is that many operators may have fewer vaccines than they need at first, and multi-state operators will receive the shots at different times for each state. Both Stoller and Pettit noted that there is great inconsistency from state to state.

“Nothing’s consistent throughout the country,” said Stoller. “We’re in for months of this process before we can accomplish what needs to be done.”

“In Washington State, there are not enough vaccines to cover all the care providers in hospitals and seniors housing,” added Pettit “It won’t be available for all our team at the same time. Those expectations have to be managed.”

All panel sessions from InterFace Seniors Housing Investment, Development & Operations are available to watch for four weeks after the event. Registration is $215. Click here to register or view the portal if you have already registered.

— Jeff Shaw

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