How low can it go? That’s a question many operators are ask- ing in the wake of a report by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care that reveals declining census numbers.

Investigators noted that occupancy levels between July and August dipped to 81.6%, a five-year low.

“Historically, there has been some variability in the occupancy trend in the third quarter in any given year, so it is difficult to gauge the impact of seasonality,” said Bill Kauffman, senior principal at NIC. “Occupancy did set a new low within this time series in the third quarter as pressure continues on the Medicare mix. However, it did decline at a slower pace from the prior quarter.”

While Medicare patient mix sank to 12.2%, Medicaid share rose to a five-year high of 66.8%.

“Not only is it important to see how the patient mix is changing, but we really need to see how the revenue mix is changing in con- junction with patient days, which is why NIC will be expanding this data set to include revenue mix next year,” said Beth Burnham Mace, NIC’s chief economist.