Survey: Cases, Isolation, Financial Strain in Affordable Senior Housing

Legislation | October 21, 2020 | by Linda Couch

A national survey of senior housing providers finds COVID-19 cases in majority of communities, and that financial strain and resident social isolation are key concerns

A national survey of senior housing providers finds COVID-19 cases in majority of communities, and that financial strain and resident social isolation are key concerns

On October 21, LeadingAge released the results of an early October survey of the impact of COVID-19 on affordable senior housing provider members. The unscientific survey sheds light on providers of housing for more 2.5 million federally-assisted senior housing homes.

Working with HUD and federal, state, and local health partners, affordable senior housing providers have faced significant challenges in the prevention and spread of COVID-19 in their communities. Notably, the majority of survey respondents (59.74%) say they are aware of confirmed COVID-19 cases in some or most of their property or properties.

The October 2020 survey results elucidate the impact of the virus on resident social isolation: More than three quarters (84%) of survey respondents consider resident social isolation and access to services to be the top challenge in the next three months.

The survey also considers staffing struggles resulting from the pandemic, as well as maintenance backlogs, occupancy issues, and resident internet access.

In addition, the survey found that almost the majority (69%) of affordable senior housing providers are at least financially strained, if not severely financially strained, due to the virus. Resources from March 2020’s CARES Act to cover extraordinary cleaning and disinfecting, for personal protective equipment, additional staffing costs, and operational adjustments to protect staff and residents are just now, in early October, beginning to be delivered to HUD-assisted affordable senior housing providers.

“This is a wake-up call: COVID is not just a nursing home issue,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, said in a press statement. “This data shows why Congress must act now to help millions of vulnerable older adults for whom COVID could be a death sentence. Funding and access to testing, personal protective equipment, and other resources are critical to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among residents and staff in their communities.”


In LeadingAge’s statement upon the release of the survey, other members lent their voices:


“The unintended physical, mental and social consequences from the lockdown are severe,” said Roger Myers, president and CEO of Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, which operates 24 affordable housing communities serving 2120 residents across the state. “If a resident doesn’t have WiFi, she or he loses important emotional supports. Mental health impacts physical health; there’s the threat of a downward spiral. HUD and Congress have to treat WiFi in resident units just as they treat water or electricity: as basic utilities. They’re essential services.”

“Once the pandemic hit, we pivoted immediately to provide everything our residents need to shelter-at-home. We didn’t do a cost-benefit analysis--we just acted with the urgency the situation merited. It’s proven to be both effective and expensive—meals, groceries, laundry service, 4 times/day disinfecting, mail delivery, trash removal at doorsteps,” said Amy Schectman, CEO, 2Life Communities, serving over 1,600 people on 5 campuses in Massachusetts. “Government should be our partner in this life-preserving effort, if for no other reason than it reduces hospital and health care costs by stopping the spread. But of course the imperative to protect our nation’s elders is our motivation. We urge our government officials to support this work in all affordable senior housing.”

“Digital resources are out of reach for many low-income seniors living in our affordable housing communities,” said Mark Ricketts, president and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based National Church Residences, operator of 310 affordable housing communities in 25 states and Puerto Rico. “This comes at a time when health care providers are reporting a large increase in telehealth visits, but a majority of our residents, most of whom have chronic medical conditions, don’t have the resources to conduct these visits remotely. This leaves them cut off from the care, services and support systems they need to remain healthy and socially connected during this challenging time.” 

“We are trying to protect our staff and our 500-plus residents. We’ve had to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for unbudgeted items, costs that are solely attributable to COVID-19 response -- touchless thermometers, face masks, PPE, hand sanitizer, additional sanitizer to clean buildings; increased labor costs; not to mention plexiglass used to create safe safes,” said Catherine Evans, executive director, Lesley Senior Communities. “Over five communities in California, 500-plus residents, these expenses are not insignificant for an affordable senior housing provider that is neither skilled nursing nor assisted living. And these are above and beyond our HUD-approved operating costs. Our 2020 budget’s been blown up and unfortunately relief funds from the CARES Act far from cover our additional expenses.”


LeadingAge continues to push Congress and the White House to reach agreement on a COVID-19 relief package that includes $1.2 billion in support for affordable senior housing. The package of support, encapsulated in HR 6893 and S 4177, include $300 million for new Service Coordinators and $50 million for the installation and services fees for in-unit wifi, as well as general COVID-19 relief.


Full survey results can be found here.