Long-term care operators appear to be “cautiously optimistic” after a new survey by the National Investment for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) found that more than one-third of organizations believe occupancy rates will return to pre-pandemic levels during 2021. 

The findings were from NIC’s Wave 24 executive survey and were conducted from March 8-21. The survey included responses from 64 senior housing and skilled nursing operators.

Results showed that 38% believe occupancy will return to normal this year, while 44% expect the figure should reach pre-pandemic levels in 2022. Just 2% of operators think it’ll be 2024 or later before occupancy levels go back to normal, while 5% didn’t have an estimate. 

The findings also found that about nine of 10 organizations reported residents being fully vaccinated, which added to the optimism around occupancy. 

NIC Senior Principal Lana Peck suggested operations appear to be “cautiously optimistic with hope that the shadow of the pandemic weathered over the past year is fading.” She added that the number of operators reporting a slowdown in move-ins and occupancy drops are also declining. 

“In looking back over the past year and the 24 iterations of the executive survey Insights results, it’s apparent how closely the survey’s results have mirrored the reality experienced by many operators as they faced daily struggles to keep their residents and staffs safe from contagion—and to save lives,” Peck wrote. 

American Health Care Association President and CEO Mark Parkinson last month said long-term care operators will have to rebuild occupancy by at least 1% per month during 2021 in order for it to reach pre-pandemic levels. 

He said if that goal is met through the rest of the year providers should “be in pretty good shape.”