One of the most important parts of retirement planning is identifying optimal housing and healthcare arrangements for later years. This may range from modifications to an existing home to accommodate aging in place, to downsizing to an age-restricted community, to investing in a continuing care retirement community. As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, concerns are being raised regarding the safety of residing in, or having an aging parent reside in, a senior housing community.
The Early Indications of Trouble
The Life Care Center in Kirkland, WA, was where the first coronavirus deaths in the US were reported. At that one facility, two thirds of residents and staff were infected, and ultimately 35 people died. This set the tone for the seriousness of the pandemic in the United State, and also helped to identify the population most vulnerable to the disease – the elderly with pre-existing medical conditions. Naturally, residents of nursing facilities and other senior housing communities fit that demographic.
Unfortunately, the level of preparedness varied from community to community. Most facilities in epicenter states like New York and New Jersey went on lock down. Protocols were enacted to keep residents safe, even if that meant isolation from visitors and other residents, elimination of social activities and communal dining. For essential visitors and employees, testing for symptoms with temperature checks became required.
Other Senior Housing and Care Options
Outside of independent, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities (or continuing care communities that combine those levels of care), seniors in need of help have limited options. Many rely on the help of family, but the challenges of the “sandwich generation” are even more pronounced now. With the economic damage caused by the virus, tens of millions of Americans are now newly unemployed. Financial resources may have declined and an adult child’s ability to care for an aging loved one may now be more limited.
There may be a new consideration for home health care as the alternative to senior communities moving forward. The media’s focus on the infection and death rate within nursing homes would naturally lead to a preference of staying at home. That said, it is unclear how much safer a senior may be receiving care at home, particularly under new social distancing guidelines. Caregivers themselves may be carriers, and without the strict protocols found within communities, a senior may have a higher likelihood of contracting an infection from a home health aide.
Solutions to Consider Now and Into the Future
So if there are concerns based on the current pandemic, or of the viruses of the future, what is a senior or their loved one planning for their care to do? Now more than ever, it is important to vet communities and caregivers thoroughly. The stories of how caregivers protected residents within their home or within their communities will be important ones to hear and be told.
Vetting a community should be two-fold. First, the quality and cleanliness of the areas of the community where skilled nursing care is provided should be examined. There are resources such as Medicare star ratings that can help to do that. Secondly, a community should be vetted financially. Occupancy rates and move-in rates may decline during this economic downturn, and it is important that communities have manageable debt levels and plenty of cash on hand to serve current and future residents’ needs.
The New York Times recently reported that 20% of the COVID-19 related deaths occurred in association with nursing homes. It is an unsettling time to be evaluating care and housing options for retirees. That said, the challenges of aging that we faced before the pandemic will remain once it is gone, such as strokes, dementia and limitations on mobility. At RegentAtlantic, we’re here to help you evaluate the best solutions for housing and care based on your unique situation.
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