Insights from the Coronavirus Fight in China with Jeff Gronemeyer

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Jeff Gronemeyer
Jeff Gronemeyer

Please welcome Director of International Census Development with Meridian Senior Living, Jeff Gronemeyer; who runs 23 senior living communities between US and China, one of which is in Wuhan. Jeff is here to share his experience weeks in China during the Coronavirus outbreak and how he managed to get back to his family.

On Dec. 31, the government in Wuhan, China, confirmed that health authorities were treating dozens of cases. Days later, researchers in China identified a new virus that had infected dozens of people in Asia. At the time, there was no evidence that the virus was readily spread by humans.

The world odometer indicates over 421,367 active cases and more than 18,810 Deaths and at least 108,388 recovered to date March 24, 2020. The World Health Organization has declared the situation a global pandemic.

Hanh Brown: [00:00:00] Hey, Jeff. Thanks for being here.

[00:01:38] Our lives have been turned upside, and I really appreciate your time to be here today.

Jeff Gronemeyer: [00:01:43] about anytime. Happy to help.

Hanh Brown: [00:01:45] on a virus, which surface in a Chinese seafood and poultry market late last year. On December 31st, the government in Wohan China confirmed that the health authorities were treating dozens of cases.

[00:01:58] Days after researchers in China identified a new virus that had infected dozens of people in Asia. And at the time there was no evidence that the virus was readily spread by humans. Today, March 21st, the world odometer indicates there are over 208,000 active cases. And over 13,000 deaths, the world health organization has declared the situation, a global pandemic.

[00:02:26] So Jeff, you were in China in December, late December. So what were you doing there and how did you get back.

Jeff Gronemeyer: [00:02:32] sure? I work for a partnership between a American senior living company and a senior living company that is based in China called st. Ocean group. And they own about 23. Communities across mainland. China was one of which is actually in Wu Han, where everything started.

[00:02:51] So I work over there to help their teams learn how to speak to Chinese families and Chinese elders about the benefits of living in senior living communities. When this first broke out, I was over there for my second visit. I go for 45 days to 60 days at a time. And I just happened to get fortunate enough that my visa expiration was about a week before all the airlines shut down their flights into China and about.

[00:03:22] Seven days before the Chinese government enacted the nationwide quarantine. They had already quarantine Wu Han while I was there. But the nationwide quarantine happened just shortly after I left. So really kind of cut it a little bit close. Otherwise I would probably still be in China, living under the quarantine.

Hanh Brown: [00:03:40] So Jeff, you just made it back on the verge of flights from China, not allowed in the U S.

[00:03:46] Jeff Gronemeyer: [00:03:46] Yeah, it was really right on the edge of the envelope. If I would have waited one more week, I flew out on a Saturday. If I had a flown out the following Saturday, I would have not been able to get back to the United States.

Hanh Brown: [00:03:57] So how long were you there?

Jeff Gronemeyer: [00:03:58] That particular time? I had been there since December 15th.

Hanh Brown: [00:04:02] So you were there at least two or three weeks. So what did you see? What was the impact of the coronavirus?

Jeff Gronemeyer: [00:04:08] Yes, I was actually working in Shanghai and had a trip scheduled to our building and Rubicon when the state department issued its travel advisory.

[00:04:19] So like a lot of business, people who travel to foreign countries, we monitor, uh, the state department apps on travel advisories, and suddenly they. Put the Hubei province on that advisory. And I canceled a four day business trip to Wuhan, and that was the same time that they started to shut everything down there and issue the local quarantine.

Hanh Brown: [00:04:41] So what do you see in China and how they dealt with the outbreak and what do you see now in the U S.

Jeff Gronemeyer: [00:04:47] Well, it’s interesting. There’s a lot of unique differences between the countries. I think that a lot of people are probably aware of what I am most impressed by is a lot of the similarities, the freedoms, and some of the things that they get to do and the way they conduct overall, but business society and the cultural society, or a little bit of an unknown, but the biggest difference for them.

[00:05:07] In managing this virus, is that the Chinese as a culture, as a people, they, for the most part, and you never have complete compliance, they really do go along with and embrace the effort that was put into the social distancing in the quarantines. They obviously took it a lot further. Infrastructure wise, the way they’re built every home community, apartment complex, large public gathering place always has a gated entry or multiple gated entries.

[00:05:37] So you can’t just easily go in and out of things if they want to shut them down. So they have a infrastructure set up that allows them to close off pretty much anything they want either. In totality or just in small areas, which they started with in Ohio. But the biggest difference that I noticed was there was no panic.

[00:05:56] There was no negative feedback to what was occurring. People just knew what they were going to do. They accepted what was coming and they really were galvanized to make sure that the outbreak did not spread to their families and loved ones are very prideful in the appropriate way about. How they interact with each other socially.

[00:06:16] So while they won’t necessarily stand in line, when you’re at a store, they also don’t bump into each other. There’s not a lot of rude yelling or complaining when things are backed up, people are just kind of quiet and calm and accept what’s coming on a daily basis. And that’s probably because it’s very crowded all the time.

[00:06:34] And if you think about it, just from a common sense standpoint, Uh, when you’re in a crowd, it’s a lot easier to manage that kind of environment. If everybody just stays calm. So some of those inherent components really, I think help them. And of course we’ve seen the results of that day. They move through their virus outbreak very quickly while it was certainly damaging.

[00:06:53] It was limited. Uh, I believe, you know, if I looked at the news recently, Italy is now. Past the death toll there than what they had in China. And we consider how many people they had to be impacted by this. I think they really did a, you know, an amazing job. And as a group are happy that they were able to come through it.

Hanh Brown: [00:07:11] So before our call, I checked on the world, odometer, it indicates there are over 208,000 active cases and over 13,000 deaths to date. March 21st.

Jeff Gronemeyer: [00:07:23] Yeah, it’s a big number I was on, uh, obviously here in the United States. I have to work with my partners in China via phone conference and teleconferences. We were speaking last night about some new statistics.

[00:07:38] There was a ratio given for the number of deaths that occurred in versus the rest of the country. And there was about a 4% difference in the mortality rate between the Wu Han epicenter and the rest of mainland China. And the real difference between that was just the availability of hospital beds. You know, that’s a big conversation right now, overwhelming.

[00:08:00] In the healthcare system, what the Chinese were able to do in most parts of the country and especially in Wu Han that helped him get through it is after the last pandemic with SARS and MERS, they developed temporary hospitals, which are basically like a tilt-up building and they put up cells and bed hospitals in.

[00:08:19] 10 to 14 days in key areas. So they were able to try to treat as many people as they could. It was still too much in overwhelm the Wu Han system. So they had a much higher mortality rate because of the lack of medical care and supplies like ventilators. But in the rest of the country, they were able to keep the systems working and people were able to get treatment and, and.

[00:08:41] If that was the case, then it looks like the death toll from the disease is fairly minimal, but those are just some of the first pieces of information. That’ll probably start to come out into the public, you know, is, uh, information sharing amongst the world health organization, the CDC, and, you know, the Chinese medical community starts to work together on what they’ve been finding.

[00:09:01] It’s definitely a global issue. And from my perspective and what I see everybody’s working together, sharing information, I know our buildings in China. You don’t have shared best practices with our company here in the United States. And so hopefully we learned from some of the things that they got to see and we’ll be able to be successful in combating this virus here in the United States.

Hanh Brown: [00:09:21] For many of us right now in America.

[00:09:23] The scale of the Corona virus crisis reminds us of nine 11 or the 2008 financial crisis. These events, reshape our society in Lassie ways. For example, how we travel, how we buy homes to the level of security and surveillance that we’re accustomed to. The U S right now is third highest globally in the COVID-19 total cases globally.

[00:09:48] We need to all come together, not only vertically within our industry, but also laterally across all industries and humankind to have one another.

Jeff Gronemeyer: [00:09:58] Well, you know, I think the difficulty and we talk about this in our meetings. I think our biggest struggle is just going to be getting people to put this into a level of seriousness that it needs to be without first having seen a bad outcome when we typically have a neuro virus or other contained viruses and senior communities.

[00:10:19] We’ve seen what the result of that is. We have experience with knowing what happens when you get sick and want to try to avoid it with something like this. There’s a lot of unknowns. There’s a lot of misinformation. And so you just have a huge number of people that are lax in how quickly they respond and how aggressively they respond.

[00:10:38] And. If there’s one simple lesson that China showed us, if you can truly shut things down, quarantine people keep the social distances, keep people from congregating in any kind of significant numbers. Certainly not things like you see in Miami on spring break and different things like that to travel around from state to state.

[00:10:58] If you can shut that down, you’ll be good in the senior living space. We just have to be really vigilant about the overall health care. We have the advantage of being able to give our residents daily checks and see symptomatic expressions very early and not taking. Any chances. And we also have a pretty good stockpile of safety items, gloves, and masks, and things like that because it’s a natural part of our business inventory.

[00:11:23] So I think there’s some great opportunities there. The real key for us is going to be keeping our caregivers healthy. We need to look at ways to maybe let some of the frontline caregivers in our buildings. Stay on campus. If they’re able to, uh, not go home and risk travel in infection or contagion from people they might come in contact with.

[00:11:43] So I think having some of those plans in place for a senior living community that would get very quickly is definitely a thing. And I know at least from. You know, our company, uh, we’re doing a lot to preplan that we have a call every day to not only just go over what we’re seeing in terms of anybody who may be getting sick.

[00:12:02] And at this point, nobody is, but what are we going to do? How are we going to handle it? We have a crisis support hotline already set up and ready to go. So a lot of things just, you know, in the background, ready to spring into action, if the need happens. And that preparedness, I think is going to be the key to our overall success.

[00:12:18] Both as a country and as an industry and senior living, because we’re certainly taking care of the most at-risk people. When you talk about seniors with underlying conditions,

Hanh Brown: [00:12:27] Let’s use your lessons learned to share across the board in the senior living industry admission that you need help does not mean that you’re a less of a leader.

[00:12:36] We all need to reach out and share solutions for others to help flatten the curve. So do you have anything that you would like to share?

Jeff Gronemeyer: [00:12:45] You know, if I wanted to leave anything with, you know, a broader audience it’s, this really is a time to let down the competitive lines. You know, I know in the senior industry we have a wide range of operating types.

[00:12:57] You know, we have small operators with just a few buildings and we have global conglomerates that are managing thousands. It’s going to require all of us sharing resources, sharing ideas, and best practices either through our industry or state associations or just our personal contacts. So, you know, I would encourage anybody if they have questions about plans or things that they might want to implement or things that I’ve seen that were successful.

[00:13:23] Our buildings in China, they can reach out to me through my LinkedIn and I’m more than happy to. Share that knowledge or expertise or ideas with anybody in any industry, because we’re all friends now, we’re all in the same boat. So time to really pull together and to think of ourselves as one United effort against this pandemic.

[00:13:40] And if we do that, I think we’ll come out the other side of it, not only healthy, but with a better understanding of each other and maybe a closeness that will benefit us moving forward.

Hanh Brown: [00:13:49] Thank you so much. Jeff stay safe to you and your family so much for joining us this week on boomer living TVs podcast.

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