The Great Re-Opening

September 18, 2020, Steve Monroe, The SeniorCare Investor - It is fair to say that the economic shutdown, especially as it concerns senior care providers, could have been handled better (you think?).  There was little consistency from state to state, and from one type of senior care provider to another.  We spoke to some providers who never stopped admitting residents, and others where there was a total shut down of new admissions with no clarity on when that might change.  

Mayors argued with governors who argued with the White House.  From the federal level to the local level, if one were grading the handling of the crisis, it would be an F.  Who can forget New York Governor Cuomo forcing nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients, issuing an executive order on March 25, and then retracting it once he understood the fatal consequences of his knee-jerk reaction.  

Back then it was all about lack of ventilators, PPE and some hospitals overflowing.  Yes, death tolls were tallied daily on the evening news, with blame cast on “long-term care providers” as the center of COVID-19 cases and deaths without even a hint of trying to understand anything about the population residing in these buildings, or the difference between assisted living communities, nursing homes or independent living communities.  They were all lumped together and treated the same. 

Now, with record numbers of positive cases, regional spikes and super-spreader events, we don’t hear much about ventilators, hospitals being overrun, or old residents in nursing homes dying without their loved ones at their side.  It is now about schools and children, but they never talk about how 120 children die of the flu every year.  But is it “of” the flu or “with” the flu?  

Everyone wants to return to some sort of normalcy, even though the “new normal” may be something that will be difficult to tolerate for a long period of time.  States have been lifting general restrictions for a while now, but more slowly for senior care providers.  By and large, the senior care industry has pretty much gotten control of this pandemic.

Yes, there are positive cases still in many buildings, just like there are in the community at large, but they are declining.  But that does not mean in the community at large we are restricted from going to the grocery store, or Starbucks.  We are all taking precautions because we have been educated about them (well, most of us).  

So, why not let senior care providers handle the great re-opening as they see fit for their particular circumstances? Tours, visitation and new admissions had better be done correctly in the next few months before the flu season begins and the threatened coronavirus “second wave” hits us.  If not, not only could there be another healthcare disaster, but the financial viability of the sector will be questioned.

Senior care communities have never been cleaner, staff has never been more attuned to the problems with infectious diseases, and residents and their family members really need to see each other.  They know the risks, and most are willing to accept them. 

Then comes Rhode Island, where a bill was proposed to “guarantee” that all residents in assisted living would be designated one visitor at prescribed hours each day or week.  State guidelines still called for a senior care facility to shut down all contacts with the outside world if even one positive case was reported.

So, a provider would now be put at risk of further financial woes if they followed the new proposed legislation.  The state can’t have its cake and eat it too, but this certainly seems to be what is happening.  You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  

There has to be a better way to re-open all senior care communities and get life back to normal, but with masks and hand sanitizer aplenty (and don’t forget social distancing).  The senior population and their families need senior living communities, and senior living communities need residents.  End of story.