“Reopening long term care facilities is important for our residents’ well being and caregivers and providers recognize the importance of visitations of family and friends,” The letter stated. “To accomplish this goal, nursing homes and assisted living communities need additional support from federal and state public health agencies in order to protect residents and caregivers.”

The extra expenses have come as some families have elected to bring their loved ones home, and many facilities either refused to accept new residents or were unable to attract them.

Ridge’s mother “was really active, and we were seeing her multiple times a week,” she said. “Then, obviously, the whole world changed.” Now Susan Ridge and her husband are considering moving to a house that will allow her to have her mother at home with them.

Industry Strategies
In reaction, industry strategies are changing. Increasingly operators are emphasizing alternatives like scheduling virtual visits with families, and adding safety practices that they say have meant fewer outbreaks than is seen in other congregate settings, like nursing homes.

In a survey focusing on a single day -- May 31 -- across the sector, NIC found a 0.2% case rate on average for independent living centers, while assisted living was at 1.2% and nursing homes were at 4.3%. Of course, that doesn’t show changes over time as the pandemic grabs hold in various states.

Seattle-based Merrill Gardens has 7,000 residents in 68 communities stretched across 20 states in the U.S. and three communities in three cities in China. Tana Gall, the company’s president, said the group is working out agreements with families who wanted to bring relatives home during the pandemic so they could move back in later.

In March, Merrill Gardens implemented a Covid-19 plan that banned any visitors, kept residents in their apartments and boosted cleaning efforts. They sent extra iPads to their centers and Alphabet Inc.’s Google sent almost 1,000 Nest Hub Max devices to residents to facilitate communication with families.

‘Stepdown’ Plan
In a June update, the company outlined what it termed a “stepdown” plan aimed at bringing back some forms of socialization for its residents, including small group activities. Still, no visitors are allowed inside.

Residents get better care at the Merrill Gardens facilities than they would at home, Gall said, including everything from having their temperature taken twice a day to having a margarita truck come down the hall for happy hour.

“We’re providing a different value to people today than we were three months ago.” Gall said. “And it’ll get back to where we were before. But I think people just need to focus on what we are providing today versus what we’ve taken away. We’ve added a lot of comfort to people that they wouldn’t have had in their own home.”