Uncertainty may very well be the defining outlook for skilled nursing providers in 2024. At the very least, it was the theme that dominated our annual survey attempting to capture your attitudes heading into each new year.

Our final story revealing results from the McKnight’s 2024 Outlook Survey Tuesday examined whether providers expected to hold, sell or buy properties this year. The largest group (47%) said they were uncertain, likely due to so many unknowns in the sector. And that same fear of the unpredictable and the unknown infiltrated plenty of other responses, too.

On predicting whether they’d have to restrict admissions this year due to staffing or other COVID-related challenges, respondents were almost evenly split (51% yes, 49% no). Yet a staffing mandate — likely still seasons away from being revealed in its final form — could drive those numbers higher. A separate 31% of providers told us they’re poised to restrict units in response to implementation.

Overall, about 46% of poll-takers also said they were less optimistic about the sector’s future this year than in years past. That’s saying something, given the challenges of recent times.

But I know I feel stressed out and anxious when the path before me is not clear, especially when the obstruction is potentially life- or career-altering. Hard to look up when you know the rug could be pulled out from beneath you.

Still, there were some bright spots too, and for many, they might just be the incentives needed to keep breathing new life into this ever-challenged industry.

If inflation continues to abate (if!) that could give more operators access to the capital they need to stay afloat. If occupancy can remain the same or grow (as 95% predicted it would), providers might be able to afford more staff when (if?) candidates are found.

If the staffing mandate were to be withdrawn, at least one-third of respondents would hit the town and celebrate. Another 59% indicated they are rooting for the inclusion of licensed practical nurses in proposed calculations to at least make a final rule more palatable.

It’s undoubtedly the biggest weight on your shoulders right now, especially when trying to find a sustainable path forward for your organization, its patients and its employees.

But even if you’re out there idling in the current uncertainty, know that this too shall pass, one way or another. And when it does, I predict with relative confidence that the vast majority of you will do what 45% of our survey respondents pledged: You’ll “find a way” to comply and move forward.

After all, and this certainty requires no polling, you always do.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.