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COVID-19 Era Creates Changes in Senior Living

The COVID pandemic has disrupted senior care living due to the social distancing limitations that exist in any area where mass numbers of people congregate. While smaller senior facilities must still overcome obstacles in licensing, financing, and development, these facilities are actually ideal for the above distancing issue. In today’s COVID environment, a small-housing senior care home could be a strong consideration for any senior or senior caregiver seeking assisted living arrangements.

From Small Beginnings To An Invaluable Future

Jim Stroud, co-founder and former chairman of Capital Senior Living (NYSE: CSU) and current president of Dallas-based holding company Stroud Companies, has fully embraced the small-house concept as a big part of the future in senior care living. He started his journey seeking a model that baby boomers would utilize now, but that would still offer resilience and flexibility for the future. He found just that in the small-house concept.

In 2013, Sonoma House Assisted Living & Alzheimer’s Care in Carrollton, Texas is how Stroud turned his vision into a reality. It’s a community of seven small-house buildings. Stroud was one of the first to prove that smaller is better when it comes to senior care housing.

Architects, big-box providers, and small start-ups alike are starting to recognize the innovative value of a smaller residential care home to both operators and residents, particularly in light of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Small-House = Big COVID success

As COVID started to terrorize the nation back in March, most traditional residential care home facilities completely locked down with measures such as:

• No one could move in or tour the facility.

• Meal service shifted to room service only.

• Visitors were off limits.

• Residents couldn’t leave unless it was an emergency.

• Activities ceased.

Such strict precautions to halt the spread of COVID and protect residents have continued for months now. It’s raised the question of continuity and longevity – how long can these massive facilities operate this way, and is it even effective with so many bodies in a single building?

Meanwhile, many small-housing facilities haven’t had to make take such rigorous infection control measurements that inevitably disrupt staff and residents from what they’re accustomed. In fact, the evidence suggests that smaller verses larger facilities are better equipped to prevent the spread of disease.

Dr. Bill Thomas’s Green House Project, which is an alternative to traditional long-term care facilities, is an example. It has 268 active homes in the U.S., with around 80 percent holding skilled care licenses. Around 12 residents live in each home-like facility, each having a private room, care and services provided by a universal staff, and the option for complete to partial autonomy. The interesting part is that a total of nine COVID positives and six COVID-related deaths have occurred out of thousands of residents. Why? How?

Small-house facilities have the ideal infection control features already built into the model:

• Small occupancies.

• Self-contained facilities.

• Encouragement of autonomous choices and completion of daily living tasks.

• Private to semi-private rooms.

• Fewer people to congregate in any given area.

• Universal workers to offer fewer staff coming and going and a more personal connection with residents to swiftly identify behavioral and health changes signaling the potential of infection and need for testing.

Assured Assisted Living of Castle Rock, Colorado has 10 small-home communities, and they’ve reported just three COVID cases and zero deaths. Shepherd Premier of McHenry, Illinois has five small homes and reports zero COVID cases.

Of course, facilities like Silverbell Homestead aren’t just offering COVID safety in assisted living/ independent living for seniors. They’re focused on making residents feel as safe as they are nurtured through an array of services, including:

• Organic, locally-sourced, chef-created menus.

• Small homestead houses with only 10-12 private beds each.

• Community involvement, exercise, therapeutic, and recreational opportunities.

• Medication supervision

• Housekeeping services

• 24/7 monitoring and access to staff

• Easy transition to higher-acuity care when/if needed.

Many small-house developments are accrediting their minimal COVID levels to their model of smaller living. With separate buildings and smaller occupancies, the scattered buildings can isolate without major disruptions to how staff and residents go about their day and better ensure that an infection in one house doesn’t become a nosocomial-type event for the other residents.

In other words, it’s much easier to control the spread of anything whether it be the flu, pink eye, or COVID, when a facility manager is dealing with 10-15 beds per independent building, verses the 150 plus of a traditional senior living facilities.

Residents of the future can look to the success of small-house senior living as a value proposition for their health and wellbeing, for this or any future infectious disease pandemics and outbreaks.

Will The Small-Housing Solution Become A Trend?

Once COVID research progresses past infection rate and disease modus, it’s highly likely that small-house facilities will be studied in scientific infection control models.

For the facilities though, the more pressing question is if senior customers will increase demand for small-housing assisted/independent living. If so, how will small-house models further evolve to offer seniors a living environment that’s both private and autonomous while also assistive and nurturing?

Experts agree that small-housing communities of the future have endless possibilities. We may something that resembles single-family home applications, both rural and urban locations, decentralized community spaces, and both detached and vertical models. The vertical model offers great promise amongst developers because the cost-efficiency gains don’t sacrifice the staffing and resident benefits that have made the household-centric model so successful now.

In closing, the future of small-housing assisted/independent living remains uncertain. What is certain is that the early data indicates that the model is highly effective and efficient at handling infectious diseases like COVID. This is of great value to the elderly population, who is already in the high-risk category for infectious diseases.

COVID-19, pandemic, residential care home, senior living, Silverbell Homestead