Question of the Month: Overcoming COVID Challenges

As the vaccine rolls out, what are some of the challenges you have overcome related to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Financing, construction hit snags

By Andrew Agins

Senior Vice President of Revenue and Asset Management

Anthology Senior Living

Capitalizing a new development deal has been challenging during the pandemic due to tight capital markets. Equity partners tend to work with developers they know and trust. Banks will lend only to projects with experienced operators and strong sponsorships. 

Maintaining a safe job site is another challenge. At our current projects, an on-site nurse screens our subcontractors daily. Personal protective equipment (PPE) use is mandated and sanitizing stations are in place. In the event of an exposure, the site is shut down, the building is sanitized, contact tracing is performed, and construction is resumed upon approval from state authorities, potentially impacting project timelines.

We’re in uncharted territory

By Eric J. Gardner

Vice President of Development

Benchmark Senior Living

Assessing market dynamics during and following a pandemic will challenge even the most experienced developers of senior housing. It’s uncharted territory. 

With occupancies at record lows and some operators slashing rates to gain occupancy, evaluating a healthy market becomes extremely difficult. We can fall back on pre-pandemic assumptions, but how long will it take to return to more balanced
supply-and-demand metrics? Is it possible that the markets will settle down to a “new normal” that looks different than today’s markets?

Financing new development requires robust financial underwriting based on data-driven assumptions that will be difficult to assess during the pandemic-impacted market conditions.

Get creative to attract prospects

By Tana Gall

President

Merrill Gardens

We have gotten creative with virtual and drive-by events for prospects, professionals and family members. We’ve made these events relevant. We also incorporated webinars and virtual happy hours. 

The key is creativity, relevance, connection and fun to keep drawing people to us in these challenging times.

We changed our ad messages to focus on well-being and our “Enjoy More” philosophy — it’s about comfort and reassurance for prospects who may be hesitant about senior living right now. We also continue to focus on strong digital advertising programs for each of our communities.

Increase safety initiatives

By Chuck Murphy

Executive Vice President, Senior Managing Director of Development and Real Estate

Life Care Services

Financing, construction costs and mitigating a pandemic have brought challenges to senior living development. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to respond, but not overreact. 

Financing for new construction and repositioning of existing communities is available at historically low interest rates. Yet, in some cases, the underwriting criteria has been more selective. 

In other situations, supply chain disruptions have caused delays and increased project costs. At LCS, we responded by launching our new safety program for residents, EverSafe 360°. LCS Development’s first COVID-19 initiative — regarding indoor air quality — is also underway. 

The challenges brought by the pandemic can be addressed, in part, by repositioning life plan communities, which generally are earning a greater share of the expected growth in senior living.

Emphasize infection prevention

By Pamela Klingfus

Vice President of Senior Living Operations

Health Dimensions Group

Although restrictions may be loosening, most consumers are going to be cautious. Our marketing and outreach efforts will be to continue to promote our best infection prevention practices and the safe environment we offer. 

This will include education and trust building with prospective residents and referring partners, including physicians. We will also promote the social component of our environment, as many have experienced isolation during the pandemic. 

Our staff is trained to monitor and respond to COVID concerns, and handle early access to vaccines.

Safely manage new prospects

By Jeff Arnold

Chief Operating Officer

The United Group of Companies Inc.

Currently, we are prioritizing marketing outreach methods that ensure the safety of prospects while still allowing us to make meaningful and engaging connections. Many of our traffic sources have remained unchanged — a mix of print and digital outreach and event marketing — and after an initial dip, most of our assets have seen traffic rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

We plan to continue offering virtual tours and leveraging social media and video to engage with prospects, even as restrictions continue to loosen. When possible, we will also pursue opportunities to offer small, socially distanced events at our properties.

Marketing strategies shift

By Jay Hibbard

Senior Vice President of Sales, Communications, Business Development

Covenant Living

While dealing with COVID, we have focused on personal and tailored ways to connect with our prospects virtually as well as in person. As restrictions loosen, we will shift to offering more in-person, on-site events to help create the true experience of the community. 

We know personally experiencing the community impacts the decision to move. That’s harder to do virtually. 

We are continuing to focus our marketing efforts on direct mail and enhanced digital marketing tactics to stay connected and drive prospect interest, complemented by video email messages, educational materials, solid email remarketing and social media content.

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