Senior living facilities can partially thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for a new marketing strategy: Sign a lease and get a COVID-19 vaccine. Why Cuomo? Under his directives, New York had one of the highest cases of coronavirus-related nursing home deaths in the country, at over 12,000 deaths -- and that figure could be higher as an investigation is ongoing. This has raised awareness for people all over the United States who live in or who have a family member living in a long-term care facility.
The decision to enter a senior living facility isn't an easy one for most people and their families to make. People worry whether the senior will thrive there, and at the very least, will be safe. During the coronavirus, too many seniors weren't safe in senior living facilities, and to make matters worse, the residents weren't allowed to have family visits. This led to a dramatic decline in the number of facility residents.
Long-term care facilities are a perfect breeding ground for the coronavirus. Dr. Joseph Ouslander, a nursing home clinician, told CNBC that nursing homes are like a "tinderbox," meaning that one sick person could kill several people in these facilities, since the long-term facility demographic of older people is vulnerable to getting and dying from COVID-19.
It's no wonder that occupancy rates at nursing homes and other senior living facilities are at an all-time low, with a vacancy rate of 19.3%.
A possible solution
To attract seniors to senior-living facilities once again, one facility, Atria Senior Living, a huge assisted-living provider with over 150 properties that span 25 states, did the usual to attract residents: reduced move-in fees and offered free rent for a specified time.
One Long Island Atria facility is offering a gift as well, and it's not a free toaster: It's the COVID-19 vaccine. This facility's pitch was: Sign a lease and get the shot. At a time when people who want the vaccine often can't get it, this marketing strategy could be the ticket to fill those vacancies. (Assisted-living facilities get top priority for the vaccine.)
Some people don't want the vaccine
While many people are frustrated from not being able to get the vaccine, there's a huge group of folks who don't want it, which includes some nursing home staff. Although the coronavirus vaccine is available to nursing home residents and staff, CDC research shows only 37.5% of staff got vaccinated, as of mid-January, while 78% of residents did.
Some groups of people are less likely to get vaccines, and people who work in nursing homes are one such group. CDC data shows, regarding the flu vaccine, that many nursing home workers think either the flu shot won't work or they won't spread the virus to people they care for. This thought process is likely spilling over into the coronavirus vaccine as well.
The Millionacres bottom line
Nursing home incentives, such as reduced costs and a guaranteed vaccine, might work to fill vacancies caused by the coronavirus, but it'll probably take more of an effort than that to bring long-term facilities back to full capacity.
There have been problems with nursing homes for a while now, and the coronavirus served to shine light on the problem. Better care in general, combined with more modern facilities, are likely what will be needed to make people feel comfortable again.
Investors should look for a complete redesign of facilities so that patient isolation, social distancing, and a reduction of cycling patients from the facility to the community and back again can happen during times when infectious diseases are rampant.