New York City - 03/02/2021 — NEW YORK CITY – On the surface, it would be easy to assume that assisted living facilities and their leadership teams would rather forget the past year. A global pandemic, growing uncertainties, misinformation and bad press were just a few of the challenges experienced in the industry during 2020 and early 2021 that had never been dealt with before. As tensions ran high, staff members – from corporate executives to nurses and administrators – adapted, adopted and pulled together in a responsible, uplifting fashion.
As the pandemic spread in March 2020, fears began to arise concerning the vulnerability of health care facilities like hospitals, assisted living facilities and nursing homes as it was soon discovered that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) left seniors and those with pre-existing conditions more susceptible to contracting the virus. As speculation ran rampant and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) concerns grew, assisted living facilities started to see fewer and fewer new residents as families chose to keep seniors at home rather than take the risk of going to a community. However, many assisted living facilities – like Premier Senior Living Group, LLC – presented a significantly lower mortality rate than the national average.
Today, inoculations are underway and health officials are predicting a “return to normalcy” at some point during the next calendar year. As many assisted living/senior care facilities move beyond the pandemic and look to the future, the lessons learned in 2020 and early 2021 will not be soon forgotten.
Premier Senior Living founders Robert Borsody and Wayne Kaplan recently sat down for a reflective Q&A to discuss COVID-19, the current state of the assisted care industry in the wake of the pandemic, and where we go from here.
Kaplan has more than 30 years of extensive experience in senior housing. At Premier Senior Living, he focuses on the optimization of the day-to-day operations of the company to promote revenue, profitability, and growth.
Borsody helms the company’s financial and acquisition operations. He directs the Finance Department in managing the financial operations of the company’s properties, including required reporting to lenders, investors, and debt guarantors (including HUD) to ensure adequate and timely payment of debt service, returns to investors and compliance with all covenants.
The two managing members represent assisted living facilities in five states: Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Their unique and all-encompassing perspective comes from decades of collective experience in the assisted living marketplace.
Taking Swift Action from the Start
Kaplan praised the staff at Premier Senior Living’s 23 properties for their quick action as the pandemic set in. Thanks to the efforts of some key staff, properties received PPEs on time and were quick to implement new sanitary measures and cleaning protocols.
“We were forced to look at – and react – to everything,” Kaplan said.
Borsody and Kaplan each lauded staff who went the extra mile when suppliers wouldn’t ship to individual locations.
“Our national purchasing director [Travis Shreffler] placed the orders and received all of the supplies,” Kaplan said. “They were stored in a stocked garage and sent out to our facilities as needed. Travis stepped up.”
Borsody said PSL has dealt with everything from massive snowstorms in New York to hurricanes along the Atlantic Coast, but fighting a pandemic rather than Mother Nature was something different.
“[The pandemic was] just the worst,” Borsody said. “But … to see 700 to 800 staff members pull together was heartwarming.”
Borsody continued, “You’re always going to have sickness – flu. It almost becomes second nature to deal with things. We’re always on our game, but the pandemic got us functioning at a higher level.”
Pandemic Creates Unique Challenges
Borsody said one of the major issues was switching from a group dining setting to in-room eating. Most facilities have a large dining hall or cafeteria that quickly became obsolete once pandemic concerns arose.
“Once it became clear we couldn’t gather in groups to eat, we had to significantly change everything,” Borsody said. “Everyone had to pitch in to make it happen. From preparing meals and delivering them … we were starting from scratch.”
A major hurdle was simply securing paper plates and disposable silverware.
“We didn’t have paper plates, we had China,” Borsody said. It’s just one of those things that you really don’t think about until it happens. We needed paper plates, plastic silverware – items like that. And we were trying to get them at a time when everyone was trying to get them.”
Keeping Communication Open
Kaplan said daily communication was key during the pandemic, and PSL made it a point to communicate with staff, residents and families on a regular basis. He said a big challenge in senior care is getting the message out to children who are caring for a parent in need.
“We have a lot of dementia patients, so it is critical to keep the lines of communication open between family members, so they know what’s going on – the good news, the bad news and everything in between,” Kaplan said. “Especially during times when we were limiting or restricting in-person visits.”
Kaplan continued: “In senior care and assisted living, there’s not always one point of contact for a resident. In many instances, you might have three grown children each calling to check on Mom. We don’t have time to field endless phone calls, so we try and use social media to relay what’s going on.”
“At a 2.3 percent death rate, we’re the safer place to be,” Kaplan said. “Once we got that message out, our census began to improve.”
Borsody added that it’s important to showcase the activities of daily living that take place at PSL facilities so families can see what’s going on.
“It puts families at ease,” he said.
PSL utilized new technologies to help cope with the pandemic. Like most of the world, team members used Microsoft Meetings and Zoom to connect with families.
“It’s certainly part of the future,” Kaplan said.
Leadership team members – including Borsody and Kaplan – plan to resume in-person visits once restrictions are lifted and the pandemic subsides.
“We like to get out at least once a year to the communities and, of course, we had to stop that when the pandemic hit,” Borsody said.
Death Rate and Vaccine Concerns
Both Kaplan and Borsody credit the quick action of staff across the company’s 23 properties for keeping the death rate far below the national average. Kaplan said PSL’s death rate was about 2 percent during a time when the national average was 5-10 percent.
Kaplan said there were initial concerns over a potential vaccine, and about 50 percent of staff didn’t want to take it.
“I think they were taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach,” Kaplan said, adding that residents were more than willing to get the shot.
“About 90 percent of residents have received at least one vaccination at this point, and many have their second or third completed or scheduled soon.”
Looking back, Borsody said PSL had a unique perspective working with numerous county, state and federal agencies like the Center for Disease Control.
“In many instances, you’re working with the state health department, but also with the city and the county,” Kaplan said. And those three don’t always agree.”
Borsody said CDC guidelines were generally clear.
The Business of Senior Care
Kaplan and Borsody agree times are changing. Years ago, PSL followed a more social model and merely provided housing for seniors. Today, PSL provides services much like a nursing home did 15 or 20 years ago.
Residents are coming to us older,” Kaplan said. “We’re still caring for the Greatest Generation. We’re not getting Baby Boomers for another 10 to 15 years.”
“We’re not getting little old ladies who play Bingo. Those types of people go to an independent living facility. We’re assisted living. Our residents are older, frailer. They need a walker. The average age is something like 89 or 90. … As our residents have changed, we changed. People are also living longer.”
According to Borsody, 2020 wasn’t the company’s finest year financially, but strides were made, nonetheless.
“Financially, we took a big hit,” he said. “There was some funding available – and we needed it. On the sales and marketing side, we found new ways to reach potential residents.”
On the employee side, PSL provided bonuses in March to help quell concerns, Borsody said. But ultimately, staff was eager to chip in.
“We did increase financial incentives in some places,” Borsody said. “But there was an overall sense to serve during the pandemic, and we kind of saw that here. Our employees were eager to work and seemed to be tougher, stronger and even more dedicated.”
Another step taken by PSL execs was to establish the new PSLU University, where staff can take courses to improve competency and advance in their career.
“And, of course, make more money,” Kaplan said.
According to Borsody, PSL is always in the market to acquire new properties because senior housing is a good long-term investment, but the buyer’s marketplace is competitive, so finding a bargain is few and far between.
“We’re always in the market for new properties,” Borsody said. “Right now, there are some bargains, but not many. Interest rates are low.”
“We like to say that the market is not recession-proof, but it’s recession resilient,” Kaplan said.
Media Contacts:Company Name: Premier Senior Living LLC