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How the pandemic impacted senior living facilities, and lessons moving forward

Facilities that care for and house seniors faced an uphill battle in 2020 and early 2021
Credit: jovannig - stock.adobe.com

ST. LOUIS — The impact of COVID-19 on the aging population in America is well documented — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 80% of all COVID-19 deaths were in the age group of 65 years and older.

One industry stands in the midst of this: senior living facilities.

Facilities that care for and house seniors faced an uphill battle in 2020 and early 2021. In our Lists this week, the Business Journal outlines skilled nursing facilities, commonly called nursing homes, and assisted living facilities in the St. Louis metro.

The two types of facilities care for similar individuals — the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care (NIC) found that the average age for people in assisted living facilities was 85, compared with 84 in skilled nursing facilities.

However, outcomes for the two types of facilities differed, according to Beth Mace, chief economist for NIC. Skilled nursing facilities, which typically take care of people who need more care, saw more COVID-19 deaths. According to NIC’s research, only 39% of skilled nursing facilities experienced no Covid-caused deaths in 2020, whereas 64% of assisted living facilities reported the same.

“Skilled nursing facilities tend to take care of people that have higher needs, are frailer and have health conditions that require more intense medical observation,” Mace said. She noted that the number of COVID-19 deaths increased with the level of care offered at a facility. Increased exposure to staff and weak- er immune systems were contributing factors.

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