COVID-19: Lessons from the US

The Retirement Living Council organised a member only briefing on 8 May 2020.

Speaking directly to RLC members via Zoom, Lynne Katzmann, Founder and CEO of Juniper Communities and Wendy Simpson CEO and President of LTC Properties, Inc. shared their COVID-19 related experiences and lessons with Australian retirement living operators.

Juniper Communities invests in, develops and manages senior living and long-term care communities in the US. During recent months, the business model and style of operations has shifted dramatically and that is what was shared with the audience.

Juniper Communities, which was founded in 1988, is recognised as one of the premier regional senior living companies in the US. Juniper actively pursues nationwide opportunities to better the retirement living industry in the US and serves as an industry thought leader and innovator. 

LTC Properties, Inc. is a real estate investment trust that has capital invested in several retirement operators and skilled nursing properties in the US. LTC is focussed on building mutually beneficial partnerships based on trust, transparency and shared success.

Most pertinent however, is the fact that Juniper Communities operates retirement living in Colorado, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The effects of COVID-19 have been profound in these states and have impacted residents that live in these facilities.

“What Juniper decided to do, our goal was simple. To keep our residents and associates, team members healthy and safe.” Ms Katzmann said.

“We developed a two-pronged approach, pro-active testing and pro-active infection prevention control,

“Testing, contact testing and isolation was the core strategy. We worked on defining the problem and identifying the risk. I called it developing our battle plan.”

As COVID-19 infections continued to grow in the US, Juniper continued to instigate drastic changes to their style of operations. Katzmann shared the unique experience and the drastic changes that her organisation had to implement in order to ensure resident and staff health and wellbeing.

“We had staff live in our communities, we called it a camp. Our staff had the option of seven days, 14 days or 28 days on site. We rented RVs, it was a scene and frankly people loved it and the community loved it. It created a safe bubble.

“The positive feeling was hugely generated. We paid for it. It was a ton of money; I would say we haven’t added it all up. But from the perspective of saving lives and preserving the life of the business it was worth every penny.”

These experiences and lessons that Katzmann was able to share with Australian retirement living operators were profound. Although Katzmann did admit that the situation that retirement living operators face in Australia is remarkably different to the situation that American operators have been subject to.

“From what I can tell about Australia is that strong leadership has led to a far quicker response, not entirely different, but more timely which has created a very different situation and for me that is important. At the end of the day people in our industry greatly care about older adults.”

Wendy Simpson shared her unique perspective on how LTC Properties, Inc. has helped operators in their portfolio collaborate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we have operators call us our first instinct is what can we do to help you. I can’t come out and do clinical things, I can’t tell them what they should do with testing.

“What I can do is hear from Lynne and tell another operator what is working for Lynne at Juniper so we can help get the best practises out among the industry.”

Simpson was highly positive about the steps that the US retirement living industry as a whole has been taking.

While COVID-19 does not present the same level of threat to Australian retirement communities as it does in the US, these lessons were still important.

RLC President and Masonic Care WA CEO ML MacDonald made comment on the value of having the opportunity to hear from these two important speakers.

“Hearing their stories of the current crisis is sobering for us all and reinforces the good practises we put in place as Government, Providers and Residents.

“The interviews also alert us to potential areas for consideration if phase two of COVID-19 re-emerges in our communities.”