Senior Housing Could Serve as Medicaid Nursing Home Alternative, Welltower CEO Argues

Welltower Inc. (NYSE: WELL) chairman and CEO Tom DeRosa touted the real estate investment trust’s new senior housing play as a possible alternative to Medicaid-reimbursed nursing homes in a Monday talk at the Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose CEO Investor Forum in Manhattan.

On February 18, the Toledo, Ohio-based REIT announced welltowerLIVING, an initiative focused on a community-oriented lifestyle with lower prices than previous Welltower senior housing initiatives.

DeRosa highlighted the program’s specialized food service partnerships, which would enable frail nursing home patients to return to a full fridge — as well the use of Medicare Advantage plans to reduce costs.

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The CEO offered an anecdote about a senior spending 60 days in a nursing home after surgery, in need of food while dependent on Medicaid dollars.

“Imagine they’re going home to an empty fridge or or spoiled food and because they may not have any help, so now we’re sending them home. With frozen meals that are really high quality …that are very nutritious…they can also retail for $3 a meal,” he said, adding that a Medicare Advantage plan could pay for part of these meals, allowing struggling seniors to live a healthy lifestyle in a Welltower community.

As a nursing home alternative, these communities could begin to “enable a more wellness-oriented lifestyle, and then can drive better health outcomes and lower Medicare spend over time,” he said, adding that it is inadmissible for those who have worked all their lives raising a family, with “a small pension and Social Security…that many people dispose of their assets and wave the white flag of destitution and go live their days in a Medicaid nursing home. We’re trying to offer an alternative,” he said.

welltowerLIVING has begun by focusing on its three assets in Las Vegas making up 620 total units, which were recently renovated and are set to have lower staffing levels and annual resident turnover of 20-25%, according to Welltower’s press release.

The presentation echoed DeRosa’s arguments about how the REIT can make improvements in the larger health care ecosystem through its deal with the Toledo, Ohio-based health system ProMedica to acquire the real estate and operations of the SNF operator HCR ManorCare in July of 2018.

The deal represents part of a larger vision focused on the burgeoning number of seniors and their needs outside of direct care that still impact their health, ProMedica CEO Randy Oostra said at the LTC 100 conference in 2019. That includes research on the social determinants of health, such as food security, he told SNN at the time.

And at the Chicago health technology incubator MATTER, DeRosa told SNN that the joint venture was the first of its kind.

“When we announced ProMedica, people said: ‘Oh, they’re doing a SNF deal.’ That’s a very pedestrian view of what the ProMedica joint venture is,” he said in a 2019 interview. “The ProMedica joint venture was a first-ever joint venture between a not-for-profit health system and a for-profit health care delivery platform like Welltower that enabled this health system to further vertically integrate.”

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