Leaders have shared ideas on how residential care businesses can move through the coronavirus crisis and come out stronger in the first webinar held by care home management software specialist, CoolCare.
Al-Karim Kachra, CFO of Country Court Care, John Flannelly, Head of Investment at Target Fund Managers, Matt Lowe, CEO of Ideal Carehomes and LNT Group, and Mike Whitehead, Director at Halcyon Care Homes & Tanglewood Care Services Ltd, took part in the roundtable which focused on four key areas: the built environment and future operating models; the role of technology; funding and investment; and infection control.
Built environment and future operating models
John said the crisis would accelerate a shift to quality assets with wet rooms that has already been seen in recent years.
“Build will become more of a focus of families that are purchasing care beds for mum and dad,” he noted.
“They will be more focused on the ability of a care home to manage a pandemic or an outbreak of infection.”
Al-Karim said the virus had affected a range of homes in Country Court’s 33-strong portfolio. Just over a third of the group’s homes have been impacted by COVID-19.
“I think it’s more about buildings than the number of beds,” Al-Karim added.
The CFO said future operating focus would be on how well a care home would be able to isolate and adapt.
“We’re a hands on family business,” Al-Karim observed. “We believe we can continue to manage a range of home types, sizes and layouts.”
Matt noted that simple changes to build specifications could make homes safer, such as using ventilation and cooling systems that avoided circulating air across different rooms.
He highlighted the layout of day space to allow a number of places where people can dine and ensure social distancing as another area of focus.
“I think it will be driven by the funders and the investment market who have been increasingly looking at that area,” Matt said.
“I suspect local authorities will also be in time in terms of where they want to place people.”
He advised operators to “watch this space” as developers were only “starting to get the time and space as an industry to think about” post COVID build design.
Webinar poll findings
Al-Karim said: “Technology is going to be really important in promoting our homes. There’s a huge marketing exercise that’s needed for the sector to promote safety and connectivity.”
He noted how technology, such as temperature checking systems, would help give families confidence when coming to see a home and would become a “big differentiator going forward”.
Matt said the adoption of rapid temperature testing as seen in airports would be “landscape changing” for care homes.
The LNT Group leader said wrist worn proximity systems was another potentially key area of development.
Mike highlighted how CoolCare’s workforce management system helped track working hours and staff efficiencies, for example. He said CoolCare’s enquiry management system had also been key to better understanding occupancy conversion rates.
Funding and investment
John said he remained “optimistic” about the medium and long term prospects for the sector.
The head of investment said the outlook for the sector stood up well against other real asset classes such as retail and hospitality.
He noted that future investment would be even more focused on build quality and flexibility.
Matt said there had been a “huge spike” of new build interest and appetite to “get on with it now” from investors.
“The level of operator interest for new build assets has been really high across the country,” he observed.
“There seems to be a huge amount of investment waiting to go into the sector. I think generally the market seems to believe this has been a trough and not permanent change.”
The panel stressed how providing reassurance on infection control was key to restoring consumer confidence.
“People coming into our homes will see exactly we are doing to keep people safe by infection control and what we expect of visitors and staff alike,” Matt noted.
“I think we have to work collectively to restore confidence in the sector as a whole and not to start getting into quibbles.”
Mike added it was “vital” that the government was held to account for the decisions it had made during the crisis.
You can watch the webinar by clicking here.