Study: AL beds booming, NH dropping by proportion

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Although the actual number of licensed nursing home beds increased modestly, their proportion to the overall population dropped from 1990 to 2002, according to a new study.

The increase in the number of elderly, as well as the siphoning of residents to assisted-living facilities, explains nursing homes' decrease, said lead researcher Charlene Harrington of the University of California-San Francisco. Results of her study are published in the August issue of the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Among the more interesting findings: While the supply of nursing home beds rose 7%, assisted living beds shot up 97% and long-term care beds of all types increased 7.8% (from 2.3 million to 2.9 million) during the study period.

Residential care and assisted living beds rose from 20.9 to 35.6 per 10,000 people, and nursing home beds fell from 66.7 to 61.4. Harrington predicted the trend would continue and added that proportions of housing supply varied widely by state.

"I don't think they (nursing homes) are losing clout or influence, but there's been a changing population," she said. "They'll be sicker and people will be going to them later than in the past. It really confirmed what we thought was happening. Nursing homes really need to think about diversifying services."