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As staffing and occupancy pressures continue to bring some providers to the brink of closure, more appear to be borrowing a marketing tactic from their senior living peers.

Skilled nursing facilities are increasingly recruiting their own sales and marketing staff to shore up referrals, a growing number of experts and providers have said in recent weeks. The move allows facilities to lean less on already busy directors of admission and appoint less clinically involved staff to pursue new business leads and focus on patient and family satisfaction.

“We’ve seen an increase from the recruitment perspective in the sales and marketing side of the SNF business: admissions, census development, we’re having a lot of openings there for folks that really understand the market,” said Julie Osborne, director of recruitment for national healthcare search firm LeaderStat.

“They’re add-ons and new positions,” Osborne said. “Where they may have had one internal [admissions employee], now they’re looking to add on external sales or marketing individuals to help with census development.”

Such hiring has become an important focus for National Health Care Associates, a six-state provider based on Long Island, NY. The company this year began adding SNF sales staff in some of its markets. So far, that includes two community marketers and a director of business development in Connecticut, as well as a marketer in upstate New York.

The chain also plans to add similar roles in New York and Massachusetts, Chief Marketing Officer Christina Fleming recently told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

“That community marketing is just really needed right now,” she said.

The pandemic forced facilities to restrict visitors for so long that many people are unfamiliar with options in their own communities. And while sales and marketing professionals have helped senior living and assisted living operators recapture much of their census, skilled nursing providers continue to face operating limitations. Occupancy was nudged just North of 75% this fall, according to federal data reported by the American Health Care Association.

Having staff with the knowledge — and dedicated time — to help push back against a pandemic-era nursing home stigma is increasingly seen as an investment in both patient and staff recruitment.

At National Health Care, leaders hope local and regional marketing efforts can help introduce the public to their buildings, as well as the short-term, long-term and specialized services offered there. New staff are already emphasizing tours and creating programming that seeks to reverse the sector’s reputational damage.

They’ve planned Q&A sessions and hosted educational opportunities such as “Dinner with a Doc” that show that nursing homes can be a community resource. It’s partly a long-play for future residents, but the hiring also acknowledges the challenges admissions staff face right now.

Directors of admissions often find themselves pulled away when direct care staffing is short, and their time may be better spent working with patients already in the building and with the in-house care planning team.

Extra sales staff, then, creates an additional arm that National hopes drives future SNF selections while also helping the provider organization spot trends or specialty services for which community members and upstream providers are clamoring.

“It’s like adding resources into your mix,” Fleming said. “They’re like hunters and gatherers for information.”