After COVID, St. Louis families explore the option of micro nursing homes

The COVID-19 is having a massive impact on senior care throughout the United States, as families consider alternative options from traditional, large-scale nursing home facilities. Some are transitioning to multigenerational homes, adding on mother-in-law suites. According to the St. Louis Business Journal, some families and developers in St. Louis are now looking into a new trend in nursing and memory care: micro-nursing homes.

COVID has had a disproportionate impact on the elderly, especially on nursing home residents. It is estimated that 40% of all COVID-related deaths in the United States were linked to nursing homes or other longterm care facilities. This alone has made people understandably wary.

One such micro-nursing home development is the Family Partners Home. It is a converted single-family home in Manchester that now serves as a small memory care facility for 8 patients. It has a drastically different atmosphere from traditional 100-bed nursing homes. Because of the lack of crowding and slow turnover rate, families were actually able to visit their parents and grandparents there during the pandemic.

Facilities like the Family Partners Home are based on the Green House Project model. It was first developed in 2001, but has gained a lot of renewed interest this year during the pandemic. GHP model facilities contain a number of small, house-like units holding around 10 patients or so. They have common kitchens and living spaces, and more personalized care.

In the first half of 2020, GHP facilities reported 26 COVID-19 cases and 1.21 COVID related deaths per 1,000 residents. In the same period, traditional nursing facilities reported 146 cases and 38 deaths per 1,000 residents due to COVID. Another local GHP development, the Cottages of Lake St. Louis has reported very few COVID cases and no deaths. Because the community is so small and already subdivided into smaller units, it is very easy to isolate each case as it arises and stop the spread.

Despite being highly personal and having an impressive track record during COVID, micro nursing homes do have some drawbacks. There are economic and logistical problems, as it is disproportionately difficult to scale them up to the same capacity as larger, traditional longterm care facilities. Staffing and building costs are much higher, for instance, a fact that caused a large number of GHP model homes to fail back in the 2000s.

While micro nursing homes are unlikely to replace macro facilities either nationally or in St. Louis, they are a promising development. Locally, facilities like Family Partners Home and the Cottages of Lake St. Louis give families more options. They are likely safer options too, as uncertainty with COVID remains high going into the winter of 2021.

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