Bill Kauffman

A lot still remains unknown on if and how quick pre-pandemic occupancy levels will return for skilled nursing operators despite the measure showing signs of stabilization to start the year. 

Occupancy at skilled nursing facilities increased to 71.2% in February — up from January’s 70.7%, according to new data released Thursday afternoon by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. Overall, occupancy is still 13.7% below its pre-pandemic level of about 85%. 

Industry stakeholders earlier this year estimated occupancy needs to rebound at 1% per month for the industry to reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021 or in early 2022.

NIC Senior Principal Bill Kauffman on Thursday said while that’s “certainly possible,” a lot still remains unknown. 

“A lot of it depends on the referral partners and how quickly higher-acuity patients come back into elective surgeries, as well,” he told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. “It depends on that. I think certainly it’s possible.” 

He added, “I think there’s some cautious optimism in terms of occupancy and that it will continue to inch higher in 2021, but certainly I think questions remain on how consistent and how fast these improvements will happen in 2021.”

Strategies for success 

Kauffman stressed the importance of SNF operators revising their long-term strategies for admissions to be successful in the near future and beyond. One tactic is for a provider to  recognize its position in the marketplace, he said. 

“If you are a skilled nursing operator that does not understand where you are, in terms of your strengths and your weaknesses and having a clear vision in terms of what you want to do within the next five years, I think that’s setting yourself up for failure,” he explained. 

He also added that building a culture for support of staff, adopting telehealth capabilities, having a streamlined decision-making process with facility administrators and developing a relationship with managed care representatives in the local market should also give operators a boost while occupancy rebounds. 

“Think outside the box,” Kauffman said. “It’s very possible that many skilled nursing operators could be facing serious challenges, not just because of COVID but other competitive forces, and other government programs that could be rolled out.

“The question will be what can you do as a skilled nursing operator that is, for one, going to help lower costs and increase quality of care, but also, what is going to be successful for you as a skilled nursing operator to stay in business?”