COVID-19 Cases Jump in Senior Housing as Financial Strain, Vaccine Access Issues Continue

Regulation | February 11, 2021 | by Juliana Bilowich

LeadingAge’s secondly quarterly survey of affordable senior housing shows dramatic increases in COVID-19 impacts as communities work to improve vaccine and testing access for residents. Resident health risks and social isolation remain top concerns as the health crisis continues.

On February 11, LeadingAge released the results of its second quarterly survey measuring the impact of COVID-19 on affordable senior housing provider members. Among other pandemic impacts, the informal survey, held over two weeks in January 2021, sheds light on trends in COVID-19 cases, financial strain, resident social isolation concerns for housing providers serving more 2.5 million older adults with low- or extremely-low incomes.

Most notably, the number of senior housing providers aware of COVID-19 at their communities jumped from just over half to nearly three-quarters since LeadingAge’s last quarterly survey in October. At the same time, severe financial strain among housing providers deepened, and many providers report not receiving COVID-19 payments from HUD for extra expenses or for revenue loss.

The survey also shows that the vast majority of affordable senior housing communities are helping facilitate COVID-19 vaccine and testing access for residents. Like the LeadingAge survey from the previous quarter, resident health risks and resident social isolation remain key concerns for providers.

Highlights of the survey results are below, and a full summary is available here.

COVID-19 Cases at Affordable Senior Housing

Nearly three-quarters of housing providers reported being aware of COVID-19 at some or most of their communities, a sharp increase from October. Survey respondents also listed confirmed cases among staff as their top staffing concern.

Because housing providers cannot access private resident medical information, many do not know when there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at their communities. However, some residents will voluntarily report illness to help others in the community stay safe.

In the LeadingAge survey from January, the number of senior housing providers who reported being aware of COVID-19 cases at their housing communities jumped to nearly three-quarters of all respondents (74.5%), up from 59.92% reported in the last quarterly survey in October.

Of the share of housing providers aware of COVID-19 at some or most of their properties, the number aware of COVID-19 cases in most properties also jumped by more than 12%, while the number aware of COVID-19 cases at only some properties remained mostly unchanged.

Among a list of staffing-related issues, survey respondents most often selected confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff to be their key current concern (42.19%).

Financial Strain at Housing Communities

Most providers report continued cost burdens due to COVID-19. While the overall number reporting financial strain fell slightly, the number experiencing severe cost burdens rose.

Housing providers have taken drastic – and expensive – steps to limit virus spread within their communities, including hiring additional cleaning and security services, supporting residents with meal, laundry, and transportation access, and stocking up on never-before purchased PPE.

Because these are largely unbudgeted expenses for providers, most providers (63.35%) continue to feel strained as operating accounting struggle to absorb necessary safety costs. And while the number of respondents experiencing overall financial strain due to COVID-19 dropped by roughly 5% since October, the share of those experiencing severe cost-burdens rose.

HUD COVID-19 Payments

Most survey respondents did not receive payments from HUD to counteract COVID-19 cost burdens.

With funds approved by Congress last March, HUD has made two rounds of “COVID-19 Supplemental Payments” available to housing providers for limited reimbursement categories; HUD has also made some flexibilities available for reimbursing properties for vacancies extended due to the pandemic.

However, despite the financial strain felt by most providers throughout the pandemic, the majority of survey respondents (58.29%) said they did not receive extra financial support for COVID-19 cost burdens for either unexpected expenses or for revenue loss.

Of those that that did receive HUD payments for COVID-19, the most common payment types reported were COVID-19 Supplemental Payments or CSPs (34.86%), followed by extra payments for grant-funded Service Coordinators (10.86%), followed by subsidy payments for vacancy loss (4.00%).

Resident Health Risks

Most survey respondents consider resident social isolation and access to services to be their community’s top concern in the next three months; the vast majority of communities are working to improve resident vaccine access on site.

Residents of HUD-assisted affordable senior housing communities have average annual incomes below $14,000, and are more likely to be non-white and have more chronic health conditions than their non-HUD-assisted peers.

LeadingAge’s survey showed that housing providers serving HUD-assisted older adults remain very concerned with resident health risks, including resident social isolation and access to services, which 80.73% of survey respondents listed as their top concern for the next three months, similar to results from October.

The survey also showed that the vast majority of senior housing providers who responded (93.75%) are actively working to bring vaccine access on-site for residents.

The full results of the survey are available here; LeadingAge will repeat the survey quarterly to monitor trends in senior housing impacts during the COVID-19 crisis.