During earning calls this month, senior-housing operators and landlords have lamented a harsh flu season that has led ailing residents to move out of their facilities and forced operators to temporarily close their doors to admissions for fear of spreading the virus.
Brookdale Senior Living Inc. Chief Financial Officer Cindy Baier said on a call Thursday that the current flu season has been the worst for seniors in two decades. Cumulatively, the company’s facilities were closed to new move-ins for more than 1,000 days in the first month and a half of 2018, Baier said. That compares with about 800 days during the entire first quarter of last year. Executives from publicly traded landlords Welltower Inc., Ventas Inc. and HCP Inc. all said that the severe flu season will hurt first-quarter results. The shares of all three firms have dropped at least 15% this year.
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“The effects tend to linger into the second quarter, just because of the natural timing of when vacancies happen and how long it takes for them to be filled,” said Jeffrey Langbaum, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “There’s nothing they can really do to prevent it except wait for it to run its course.”
While the flu tends to hit senior-housing companies hardest during the first calendar months of the year, Brookdale and Welltower reported that the early start to the current flu season started hurting occupancy in the fourth quarter.
This winter has been especially trying. Influenza and pneumonia accounted for 9.8% of all U.S. deaths during the week ended Jan. 27, after peaking above 10 percent. While the share of doctor visits for flu-like symptoms plateaued during the week ended Feb. 10, indicating that flu season is waning, the number of deaths from this year’s outbreak could outpace those from late 2009, which was marked by the swine-flu epidemic.