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Impact of COVID-19 on Senior Living Development: Challenges, Opportunities and Changes in 2020 and Beyond

During the pandemic, senior living development and construction have remained relatively strong. LCS Development teams and services are running at approximately 80% capacity. Outside of a few minor delays due to some state-mandated shutdowns, new construction projects are progressing, and we’re very busy with master planning and expansion projects. Teams have adapted well with virtual versus on-site meetings to keep new construction projects on track.

Challenges

As we look ahead, the senior living industry is facing a couple of challenges to overcome. Renovation and remodeling projects in existing communities are seeing the most significant delays due to visitor and nonessential worker restrictions. We look forward to resuming those projects as soon as possible. Some entitlement processing by local officials has been delayed because public hearings to review and approve plans have been postponed. However, we expect virtual meetings and/or a return to work by city officials to resolve this issue.

There are also some market concerns about senior housing solutions in general, as some nonprofit boards are taking a wait-and-see approach on new projects instead of moving forward as planned.

Opportunities

While a few challenges exist, there are also opportunities. Projects aren’t going to get more affordable than they are right now. Construction and labor costs have leveled off and have even gone down a bit in some areas of the country. Financing and interest rates are also remarkably low whether you’re financing through banks, tax-exempt bonds or a combo plan. Our comprehensive process for new developments assists in that area as well.

We believe there are many opportunities in the marketplace for organizations that continue to plan and move forward, as the project cycle requires 12-18 months before construction start. During the early months of the pandemic, one of the biggest concerns was the ability to fill new builds as sales offices shut down and staff worked from home. Our sales and marketing teams quickly pivoted to conduct tours, sales presentations, and both group and one-on-one meetings through virtual experiences. The nearly seamless transition to online platforms enabled the sales process to continue. This challenge-turned-opportunity now offers sales and marketing teams a new tool for remote face-to-face communication with prospective residents and families spread across the country.

Pandemic-Related Design Changes

While we have not implemented design changes to new projects at this point, we’re continually interacting with operations professionals to thoroughly understand and apply their experience and best practices. Collaborating with our Life Care Services management teams gives us a unique advantage with firsthand insights of needs for senior housing solutions.

Three areas of focus within resident care settings are emerging:

  • Isolation of individual care spaces: Including air locks and negative air pressurization, i.e., configuring HVAC systems to isolate air movement to those spaces and prevent air mixing with the rest of the building.
  • Location of isolation rooms: Currently, some are in the wrong location, near the central part of the facility by a nursing workstation. We are making adjustments to allow access that avoids cross-contamination and to make them more self-contained. In the future, we believe this will be built in to the original design.
  • Increased storage space: Dedicated spaces for storing, donning and doffing of PPE will likely be considered in new designs, and this is an area we will likely work on with existing communities.

We also believe the jurisdictional authorities will react with regulatory changes that will affect new designs, primarily in health care settings.

Density and Communal Living

When thinking about independent living in senior housing, it might seem natural for small homes and villas to have renewed interest, thereby decreasing congregate living in apartment buildings. However, we do not see that becoming a larger portion of project planning in the future. The increased land and space required for less density leads to more costs. The affordability factor is the reason we have multifamily housing in senior living communities.

Dining is also a key focus, as well as creating efficiencies to maintain service in venues with only one-third capacity because of social distancing measures. We are also looking at flow and better ways to handle carryout and delivery services. Outdoor dining venues are another opportunity to expand seating capacity in the near term. While density and communal living as a whole certainly need further consideration as we battle and overcome COVID-19, this is one of the most important aspects of senior living communities. Major changes to the parameters of senior living design and construction could diminish the social and wellness benefits of this product and why so many seniors opt for it.

Going Forward

At LCS Development, we applaud all senior living professionals for their perseverance, expertise and camaraderie over the past months. In terms of your existing building and physical space, keep doing the best you can with what you have. Call us if you need us. By focusing on doing what is right for residents in all new development, redevelopment and renovation projects, you’ll have the greatest success. That’s been our experience, and that’s what we believe in.

Contact us at LCS Development. Experience Is Everything®.

About Joel Bleeker:

Joel has worked with LCS since 1991. With more than 35 years of design experience, Joel is a licensed architect with an undergraduate degree, professional degree, and an MBA from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Prior to his employment with LCS Development, Joel spent five years working for a national construction company’s design, cost estimating and project management subsidiary, then spent five years with Marriott Corporation as design manager for Courtyard by Marriott hotels. During his time at LCS Development, Joel has held positions as a design manager for Life Plan Communities, director of design for all development projects, and now leads architecture and construction for LCS Development, where he sets standards for project design and construction, directs the conceptual and schematic stages of each development project, and oversees each project’s design and construction.