Covid Vaccines as an Amenity

Apartments at Atria West 86, a senior living community on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, start at $6,100 a month, with amenities that include a rooftop terrace, an in-house salon, town car service, and chef prepared meals.

In a promotional email last month, the development added another feature: sign a lease within the next 10 days and get the Covid-19 vaccine in February.

The announcement, part of a larger campaign for Atria facilities around the country, was about “making müddet that seniors know that if they come live in Atria, we’re a place that our society has decided should have priority access to the vaccine,” said John Moore, the chief executive of Atria, which is also requiring its employees to get vaccinated. Atria, based in Louisville, Ky., owns and operates about 185 independent living, assisted living, supportive living and memory deva communities in 25 states.

At a time when many older New Yorkers are struggling to get access to the vaccine, Atria officials say the top question from prospective residents has been: Can they get the vaccine?

This early access to the vaccine may signal a turning point for senior living communities, which have paid a heavy toll during the pandemic. As of October, 20 percent of residents of assisted living facilities who contracted Covid-19 died of the disease, compared to 2.5 percent in the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The pandemic has decimated occupancy rates at these communities, as properties enacted moratoriums and even evvel facilities reopened, families were hesitant to make the move.

Nationwide, over the course of 2020, the occupancy rate in senior housing dropped 6.8 percent, from 87.5 percent in the first quarter to 80.7 percent by the fourth quarter, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Deva. “That’s a lot, that’s a big, big, big drop. It’s unprecedented,” said Beth Mace, the center’s chief economist. “It’s a clear result of the pandemic, which has hurt move-ins.”

The vaccine presents an opportunity to recast senior living communities as a safe island of inoculation, especially in cities where Covid-19 is widespread.

“Residents who’ve gotten two doses, are they really safe from bad outcomes from Covid? And the answer is: ‘Yeah, they really are,’ ” said Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, adding that outside visitors could affect the level of safety in a facility. “We are not giving enough credit to how amazing these vaccines are and how much they’re changing our lives.”

“Some operators are using that as a competitive advantage to draw people in, and it’s kind of compelling,” Ms. Mace said, adding that the practice was not widespread. “Your best-in-class operators are striving to be the safest place that you can be as a senior.”

Officials at senior living communities say they are already noticing renewed interest. “We’ve had an amazing uptick in people who are considering senior living,” said Julie Masiello, a spokeswoman for Brightview Senior Living, which owns and operates 45 communities along the east coast, including in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. The vaccine, she added, has been a game changer.

“The isolation has been really tough for people who have stayed in their homes,” she said. “Now with the hope of the vaccine, people are looking at it and saying, ‘OK, I am ready to make this move.’”

Like Atria, Brightview is making the vaccine available to residents who move in. Each Brightview location has scheduled three clinics, from January through early March, operated by either Walgreens or CVS, and will help residents who move in after the last clinic get vaccinated.

By early February, 43 percent of Brightview residents had received their first shot. And some locations, like the one in Warren, N.J., have already had a second clinic, meaning many residents have had both doses of the vaccine. “People are just giddy. Giddy and emotional at the same time. It’s really amazing,” Ms. Masiello said.

About 90 percent of Atria’s communities had held their first vaccination clinics by early February. Given the pace of the vaccinations, some senior living communities may operate within an inoculated bubble within the next few months. “We’re really excited about this post-Covid world,” Mr. Moore said.

At Brightview Warren, residents still need to wear masks, maintain six feet of social distance and follow other Covid safety guidelines, but when they dine at the facility’s restaurant, or participate in activities like happy hours, TED talks or cooking demonstrations, they’re doing so in a community that will soon be largely inoculated.

Ms. Masiello said, “This is the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.”

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