The COVID-19 pandemic left senior living in need of an occupancy comeback, as most operators reported significant declines in occupancy sustained through 2020 and into 2021. In addition to that major challenge, staffing shortages have increased, forcing operators to do more with less than ever before.
Digital marketing leader G5 is closely tracking these challenges, which relate directly to the marketing and sales changes needed in the changing senior living landscape. In its Senior Living State of the Industry Report, released September 2021, G5 has identified and quantified four major headwinds on the horizon.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, move-ins declined or were stagnant, making occupancy an overarching challenge that operators continue to face today. NIC MAP Data reports that in the second quarter of 2021, occupancy fell to record lows in both independent living, at 81.8%, and assisted living, at 75.5%.
“The elephant in the room with senior living is occupancy, or lack thereof,” writes G5 Senior Living Regional Sales Director Steve Wright in the report. “In 2020, this was communicated broadly, with occupancy stats hitting monthly all-time lows. Occupancy didn’t magically self correct, and it feels like it’s less of a conversation topic now as communities juggled vaccination roll outs, and optimistically pushed toward a vaxxed and (more) relaxed world. Unfortunately, we’re all experiencing the new Delta-induced era of the pandemic.”
#2 The Prospect Journey Changed
The decision-making process for senior living prospects and their sphere of influence has changed significantly during the pandemic, with many families opting to delay move-ins until absolutely necessary. Further, public approval of senior living fell as mainstream media outlets reporting on the pandemic’s wrath often inaccurately conflated skilled nursing facilities with senior living communities.
In its data, G5 finds that the number of days of the average prospect journey remained relatively steady in length, with only a 2.5% increase from a prospect’s first digital interaction with a senior living community to inquiry. Simultaneously, the quantity of online steps in the research journey for senior living prospects increased as seniors and their loved ones learned more about prospective communities online.
According to G5 data, the number of touchpoints — defined as digital interactions between a prospect and a community — increased by 23% from May 2019 to May 2021. Digital advertising engagement in senior living also rose 67% from May 2019 to May 2021.
In summary, more online steps and more engagement with digital advertising hints to marketers where they can find more decision-ready seniors.
“The need for senior living didn’t evaporate, but the typical senior living journey looks different in 2021 than it did pre-pandemic,” Wright notes in the report. “Selecting the right senior living community for a loved one is a weighty decision, and even more so when you consider it through the lens of the past year.”
#3 Tech Talk
Senior living technology adoption saw a major boom in 2020, as providers quickly implemented solutions in many categories — from telehealth to virtual sales assistants to on-the-go charting — to serve both residents and staff. While some tech served its purpose short term, G5 foresees other tech having a lasting impact on the industry and on operator spending.
Telehealth utilization stabilized at 38 times its pre-pandemic level, according to McKinsey research, with 13% to 17% of doctor visits now taking place via telehealth.
Tech adoption can help support not only residents, but staff including sales staff, during this era of doing more with less.
“Virtual and contact-less options are thriving for seniors and other vulnerable populations,” the report states. “Seniors and their loved ones are researching senior living communities at a deeper level. Adding a Virtual Sales Assistant (VSA) to your website can make this research a lighter lift for prospects, and ensure their questions don’t fall through the cracks with your sales and marketing team.”
#4 The Pandemic Itself
As residents nationwide continue to contract COVID-19, the senior living industry will continue to feel its effects in several key areas: care level and associated risk, finding employees and the vaccine environment including growing mandates.
In skilled nursing facilities, where vaccines are mandated federally, the percentage of vaccinated nursing home residents per facility in August was 83.1%, while the percentage of vaccinated nursing home staff per facility was 61.1%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Between public perception, historically low occupancy levels, wage and hiring pressures, and the Delta variant, senior living is in a challenging place due to all things COVID,” Wright notes. “On the bright side, the need for senior living didn’t go away. Seniors, and their loved ones, need extra help.”
This article is sponsored by G5. G5 is the leading digital marketing software and services platform for senior living communities. To access more data including metro-specific findings, download G5’s State of the Industry Report.
The post By the Numbers: Four Headwinds Facing Senior Living appeared first on Senior Housing News.