The Race to Integrate Senior Housing with Healthcare

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By Brian Jurutka

A compelling case for more and better senior housing options can be made by simply looking at the numbers. More than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day. 

Until recently, there hasn’t typically been a widespread connection between healthcare providers and senior housing. When the healthcare needs of this burgeoning population are considered alongside their housing requirements, the price tag and the services needed appear daunting. The nation’s health spending is already projected to eclipse $3.3 trillion this year alone. 

To be competitive in today’s value-based healthcare system, care must be coordinated, cost-effective for the government, affordable to patients, and meet metrics for quality. Despite these challenges being tough to meet, the universal agreement from all sectors is that patients need the right care, at the right time, in the right amount, and in the right place.

That’s why traditional healthcare companies are sizing up opportunities to reduce costs and improve quality by incorporating housing as a key part of their strategy. They are partnering with hospitals, health systems, and community organizations to make sure care is better coordinated to improve outcomes and keep people in their homes. They recognize that senior housing owners, operators and investors offer a timely opportunity for the nation’s largest health insurance companies and health systems, as well as the clinicians who care for seniors.

More and more, health system leaders are talking about the need to keep patients in their homes and establish, through acquisition and affiliation, more linkages to clinicians and communities. Receiving care in the comfort of an individual’s own homes, rather than more expensive institutional settings, is a big part of many people’s vision for improving the health of older Americans.

Last year, the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, which brings together the developers, operators and funders of senior housing, convened dozens of healthcare executives to discuss innovative collaborations that could address the care needs of high-cost segments like older Americans with multiple chronic conditions.

Historically, one speaker said, the approach may have been to think of improving efficiency in clinical settings, but health—the absence of needing healthcare—happens in homes and in communities more than in hospitals. Another speaker cited figures showing the relatively small effect that clinical care has on most people’s overall health, with the lion’s share attributable to social determinants like individual behavior and environmental factors.

Housing for people of every age is increasingly attractive as a “fixable” social determinant of health that supports traditional healthcare. Senior housing is especially well positioned to help government, private payers and providers bend the cost curve, because it addresses patterns of expensive, often repetitive or chronic treatment that begin with hospitalization and typically conclude with rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility before returning to home.

Thus, we’re seeing increasing collaboration between medical care providers and non-medical partners, like senior housing providers, to address social determinants of health. Not surprisingly, there is a financial reason. As payments for providers move away from fee-for-service medicine, medical care providers are taking on more risk and being incentivized to deliver optimal medical care the first time, which in many cases may mean keeping patients in their homes.

Care provided in senior housing settings can be a less expensive way to keep people well and prevent a future hospital stay that could cost thousands of dollars a day.

The increasing number of health insurance, hospital and health system leaders who see the link between housing and healthcare for their older patients are looking to build bridges. The idea of older Americans living in homes and communities that enhance wellness and provide convenient connections to healthcare services is coming, and quickly. It’s why you’ll continue to see the senior housing sector evolve its products and increase its visibility among health insurance and hospital and health system leaders.  

Brian Jurutka is president and CEO of the National Investment Center for Senior Housing and Care, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to support access and choice for America’s seniors by providing data, analytics, and connections that bring together investors and providers. Learn more at www.nic.org.

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