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Senior Housing Facilities Should Always Have Been Prepared For Coronavirus

The deaths of 13 nursing home residents in Washington state from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, brings to light a harsh litmus test senior housing providers across the U.S. face regularly.

Much like the flu does every year, the spread of COVID-19 throughout any given senior housing community can serve as a bellwether for how well elder care facilities are prepared to deal with communicable diseases, according to speakers at Bisnow's Senior Housing Boom event in Dallas Wednesday. 

Senior Housing Facilities Should Always Have Been Prepared For Coronavirus
Basharkhah Engineering's Sam Basharkhah, Colliers International's Elena Bakina, Hines' Ryan Pritchard and KeyBank's William Allison

Most facilities already struggle with the potent economic impact flu season brings each year.

“I never considered what a concern the flu is in senior housing until I came into the real estate industry, and it’s a huge concern,” KeyBank Senior Production Analyst William Allison said at the event.

“It creates a massive disruption in occupancy of senior housing every year, so really your response to coronavirus shouldn’t be any different from the flu.”

During more severe flu outbreaks in the past, nursing homes closed their doors altogether. 

A March 2018 report from S&P Global Market Intelligence notes that in 2018, one nursing home operator battling a flu outbreak refused more new patients during a five-week period than it did in the entire first quarter of 2017. 

But whether it is the flu, the coronavirus or something else, experts in senior housing say procedures for how COVID-19 is treated at nursing homes and commercial sites catering to seniors should already be in place.

“Are you isolating residents who have it?” Allison said. “How are you handling sanitation? How are you minimizing contact with other residents? It’s a great opportunity for the best-in-class care providers to differentiate themselves from those who don’t have good hygienic processes in place.”

Even though nursing homes have turned into ground zero in the battle against the coronavirus in many ways, since COVID-19 affects older and immunocompromised people much more dramatically than the rest of the population, senior housing analysts, operators and investors are not panicking over the national headlines. 

Instead, those speaking at Bisnow's Senior Housing event view the virus as an unfortunate scenario that will help their industry better understand which elder care facilities are best prepared for outbreaks and infectious diseases.  

“From my perspective, and I hope the operators take it the same way, I think it’s an opportunity for them to set themselves away from the pack, so to speak,” Hines Director of Healthcare and Senior Living Ryan Pritchard said. 

“The groups we work with, they seem confident in the protocols they have in place and in their procedures for perhaps when ... somebody in one of their communities does get diagnosed with it. I think they are confident that they have dealt with the flu for years, and this is a more combative strain of it.” 

For investors in senior housing, the national panic around the coronavirus has created an unexpected silver lining with interest rates hovering near the bottom. 

“From an investors’ perspective, they are looking at the market at the Treasury rates … and it is an advantage for the investors to use the lower interest rates at the moment,” Colliers International Vice President Elena Bakina said.