The percentage of filled beds in skilled nursing facilities continued its path toward stabilization, according to new data released Wednesday by the National Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

NIC’s latest Skilled Nursing Data Report showed that occupancy at U.S. facilities was 83.8% for the fourth quarter — a slight increase over the fourth quarter of 2018 when occupancy was 83.6%. It was also a decrease of just four basis points from the third quarter.

The latest data serves as an industry snapshot before the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak and flu season hit, experts noted. 

“Skilled nursing occupancy before the COVID-19 outbreak was stable,” Bill Kaufman, NIC’s senior principal, said. “At the end of last year, the outlook for skilled nursing was healthier than a year ago. While we do not yet know how COVID-19 will impact facility occupancy in 2020, we began the year from a position of relative strength.” 

Average Medicare revenue per patient day (RPPD) ended the year at $544, an increase of 4.6% in the fourth quarter. The rise was not entirely a surprise because of one-time frontloading of reimbursements due to the newly-implemented Patient Driven Payment Model, as well as generally higher levels of payment than the forecast “budget-neutral” approach regulators touted.

“It is important to keep in mind that this increase was seen in the first quarter that PDPM became effective and it remains to be seen if this is a one-time adjustment or the beginning of a trend,” the report states. “We will have to wait to see how the operating expense part of the equation evolves before making general conclusions.”

Meanwhile, Medicaid revenue per patient day ended the year at $216, which was a 1% increase from the prior year.