Research Project Highlights How Retirement Villages’ Response To Pandemic “Safeguarded Lives”

A ground-breaking research project into the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how Retirement Village and Extra Care Housing operators helped to protect the lives of their residents and staff.

The RE-COV Study was led by the St Monica Trust, funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust and supported by the Housing LIN.

The aim of the research project was to better understand the experiences of retirement villages and extra care housing during the pandemic, including the effectiveness of measures taken to protect the health and well-being of residents and staff.

The evidence from the RE-COV research is clear, the sector’s immediate actions to counter the rapid spread of COVID-19 safeguarded the lives of many thousands of older residents and frontline staff.

Findings showed that Retirement Village and Extra Care Housing scheme operators in England were successful in protecting and supporting their residents during the pandemic. In particular, this was evidenced by:

The overall lower than expected proportion of RE-COV survey participants’ residents who died from COVID-19 in comparison to people with the same age profile living in the general population in England.

The positive effects of the lengths that operators and staff took to help support residents’ activities of daily living, social engagement, community and personal activities.

Rachael Dutton, St Monica Trust’s COVID National Research Project Lead said: “0.97% of retirement village and housing scheme residents died from confirmed COVID-19 from March to December 2020.

“This was less than the 1.09% of people with the same age profiles who died from COVID-19 living in the general population in England and residents of Retirement Village only operators also had the lowest COVID-19 death rate of 0.51%.”

Chief Executive of Housing LIN, Jeremy Porteus, said: “With much of the national and trade media reporting on the crisis in care homes last year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, these important findings show how the Retirement Village and Extra Care Housing sector mobilised quickly to introduce measures to protect lives.

“The evidence from the RE-COV research is clear, the sector’s immediate actions to counter the rapid spread of COVID-19 safeguarded the lives of many thousands of older residents and frontline staff.

The recommendations made in the study as to how some of the major challenges and difficulties faced by operators could be overcome are:

A shared awareness and understanding of the housing-with-care model (including a widely publicised and consistently used legal definition), which reflects its important role in the broader care sector and the extent of the frailty, health and care needs they provide for.

The inclusion of the housing-with-care sector in all relevant policy and guidance.

Government rules and guidance being developed in consultation with experts, communicated clearly and consistently, with realistic and practical notice periods to implement them.

The provision of better access to funding to support large financial deficits incurred by Retirement Villages and Extra Care Housing due to the pandemic as well as consistent processes for funding across local authorities.

Flexibility built into contracts for commissioned services so that they cover essential costs of additional staffing, if need arises.

The importance of physical design considerations in keeping schemes and individual apartments well-ventilated, plus providing appropriate space to enable social distancing and access to outdoor spaces or balconies.

CEO of the Dunhill Medical Trust, Susan Kay said: “We’re really pleased to have been able to support this work. It’s vital that organisations have the opportunity to share their experiences and successes – as well as the challenges – so that systemic improvements can be made in the future.”

Michael Voges, Executive Director of The Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) said: “Despite the huge challenges presented by the pandemic, housing-with-care has performed brilliantly in keeping their residents safe, supporting them to stay active and independent and in supporting the wider health and social care system.

“The past year has seen an overwhelming vindication of the housing-with-care model. It is time for more older people to have the opportunity to benefit from the safety, security and supported independence which housing-with-care provides.”