Senior Living Foresight conducted a constructive virtual summit recently which provided excellent insight on a variety of topics. Active Living International had some valuable takeaways for those in the senior living space. If you are interested in the full line up of webinars go to Senior Living Foresight Virtual Summit.

The Aging Revolution

Speaker: Dr. Bill Thomas
Blog post: October 7, 2020

There are infinite possibilities in front of those who are growing older, and COVID-19 has highlighted some of the challenges and issues in seniors housing that make it difficult to keep up with this inevitable change in our sector. Dr. Bill Thomas, geriatrician and founder of Minka Homes, shared his insights on what will be successful in seniors housing going forward into the future.

Post-pandemic, whether we like it or not, seniors housing will be a part of the healthcare system. COVID-19 is a home and community-based virus, only 10% of cases are hospitalized, so, the real battlefield of this pandemic is in homes and communities, and after COVID-19, communities will be seen as the frontlines.

COVID-19 has caused the “hospital at home” setting to become normalized and common, showing that our sector is able to prioritize residents’ healthcare while keeping them safe from the virus. In turn, we can use being considered a part of the healthcare system and normalization of “hospital at home” settings as leverage in framing seniors housing as a way to escape the stressors of acute care and the institutional model. This leverage is likely to increase post-pandemic because families and potential residents will realize that other healthcare is available at home, too. It may seem like a daunting task to implement more of this when it can be difficult to get in contact with our residents’ healthcare providers for normal day-to-day wellness operations, however, Dr. Thomas believes if we are able to make a case for the “hospital at home” as a better option for their patient with credible evidence, they will be receptive and willing.

It’s quite possible that the post-COVID-19 world will strive to keep elders at home for as long as possible. It’s not advised to ignore this hurdle, or we may be faced with the same problem as the cruise industry, who will have a difficult time filling their ships after the pandemic. In order to combat the image of seniors housing being a place where virus and disease can easily spread, we must highlight the issues of depression and loneliness in seniors that COVID-19 has exacerbated, and sell the promise of vibrant, purposeful community life with a well-being-oriented culture. COVID-19 will mark the end of the leisure/lifestyle era for senior living and shift the focus of our market to look for communities that are safe, secure, warm, and resilient and just as importantly, driven by social connection and passion.

There was a time when community administrators could defer investing in technology with no penalties, in Dr. Thomas’ words, “It’s how we end up with $20 million buildings that have one wi-fi router and a few HP inkjet printers,” but post-COVID-19, that will not be the case. In terms of tech investment, we have now been thrown off a cliff. Communities are scrambling to secure tablets, telehealth/telepresence tools, and more, in order to continue taking the best care of their residents. Previously, the majority of seniors housing was able to put off investing in technology largely due to a “herd mentality.” However, competitors have already begun investing, and if we want to pull ourselves forward as leaders in a post-COVID-19 world, we need to do the same.

Over the next five to ten years, we will gradually shift away from the viability of age segregation, and move into what Dr. Thomas refers to as MAGIC: multi-ability, multi-generational, inclusive communities that will be great for all ages/abilities, but exceptional for seniors. Over time, Dr. Thomas predicts that we will see MAGIC communities take over an increasingly large percentage of community options.

The MAGIC model is based off notions that age and ability segregation is the anti-hero of human connection because it magnifies human differences, instead of uniting residents.

The closer our communities can get to fostering human connection between different individuals, the better. This likely means doing away with age and ability segregation. This transition is demanding, but our sector can manage this if we are brave enough, Dr. Thomas concludes. “We are being called to greatness, and we must rise to the occasion. This is our time.”