Senior care comes of age in Covid-19 era
After a three-decade career with an international hospitality group in different geographies, when Mohit Nirula decided to take the leadership mantle of a senior living community in India, his then prospective boss had one piece of advice for him: “India may not be culturally ready for the concept (of senior living) for a very long time but the country is circumstantially ready for it.”
Three years down the line, as the CEO of the Columbia Pacific Communities (CPC) —- India’s largest senior living community operating in five cities and nine locations across south India — Nirula could not agree more.
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The Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent challenges have only increased that ‘circumstance’ for many households. From inability to access basic necessities during the lockdown to losing out their personal space due to remote working, the pandemic presented many challenges to both seniors living alone as well those in mixed family environments.
Fear, anxiety and trauma increased. “Loneliness is the world’s fastest accelerator of aging. There needs to be a creation of communities where people remain socially engaged and when they do that, they will also remain physically fit, mentally alert and intellectually stimulated,” says Nirula.
Not surprisingly, the demand for both Columbia Pacific’s existing and ready to move communities went up by four times as compared to pre-Covid times. It was not the only one to witness this trend. Ashiana Housing, a pioneer in senior living communities in India, also saw the demand and enquiries for its properties going up manifold.
“One large change that took place was that earlier the Next Of Kin (NOKs) were not excited about their parents moving into a senior living but now we saw lot of enquiries from the NOKs,” said Ankur Gupta, Joint Managing Director, Ashiana Housing.
Ashiana currently has sprawling senior living communities in Maraimalai Nagar (Chennai), Bhiwadi (Delhi-NCR), Jaipur (Rajasthan) and Lavasa (Pune). It is planning to launch four more sizable projects with 500-1,000 units each over the next two years to cater to the growing demand.
In a recent report, real estate services company ANAROCK said senior living homes are shedding the stigma of ‘old age homes’ to become a respectable real estate category, and this has accelerated in Covid-19 times.
Significantly, private equity firm Lumis Partners has identified age care as a segment of interest and invested in two start-ups in this space. One is Emoha (an anagram of at home), which offers care at their own homes for elders. Another is Epoch, which is setting up external care homes for senior citizens, especially those with dementia. Also, during the pandemic, Emoha hired over 50 Elder Relations Managers (ERMs) — a new category of white collar jobs that it expects to grow.