Over the last month, a series of congressional hearings and confirmations shined a spotlight on the seniors housing and care sector as a whole, as well as a number of areas impacting the industry. The hearings followed a tumultuous year of navigating the COVID-19 public health emergencies and subsequent media scrutiny, and covered a wide range of topics, including staffing necessities, private equity investment, quality metrics, home and community-based services (HCBS) funding, reimbursement pressures, telehealth flexibilities, and dual-eligible care coordination.
Nestled among the many pain points of 2020 were a smattering of bright spots for the seniors housing and care industry. For one, the year ushered in a wave of innovative strategies to combat loneliness in the face of social distancing. Among the top strategies was the use of virtual reality – an area which saw a lot of growth and adoption among operators during the public health emergency. As I delved deeper into researching the topic, I learned that virtual reality – in addition to creating opportunities for socialization and stimulation – has been gaining traction as a staff training tool as well. Embodied Labs’ person-centered caregiver training, for example, provides immersive learning experiences that mimic many of the common conditions and life transitions that impact people as they age. These lab experiences cover vision and hearing loss, Alzheimer’s Disease, end-of-life conversations, cognitive decline, and LGBT and transgender health and aging. In each of these experiences, the trainee becomes the viewer, and assumes a first-person perspective of how older adults experience different aging challenges.
On March 10, the House passed the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion economic relief bill aimed at helping the country recover from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. On March 11, President Biden signed the bill into law.
In December, the CDC prioritized skilled nursing and assisted living residents and staff members in phase 1a of vaccine rollouts. Now, across the nation, long-term care operators are hosting vaccination clinics for their residents and staff. There are two COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in the U.S., with multiple others showing promise in Phase 3 clinical trials. All of this comes as good news. Despite it, Ruth Katz, senior vice president of policy at LeadingAge, warns that as of January 3, 2021, about 50% of nursing home workers were declining to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In response, operators are implementing a variety of strategies to encourage and improve vaccine acceptance. It should be noted that vaccination clinics continue to ramp up and the CDC reports, as of January 19, that more than 1.7 million doses have been administered across long-term care, representing over 56 percent of the 3 million seniors in skilled nursing facilities, assisted living communities, and other congregate settings.