Skilled nursing operators seeing steep drops in occupancy since the start of the pandemic aren’t expecting those numbers to rebound any time soon, according to one expert. 

“For facilities that lost existing occupancy due to a COVID-19 outbreak, when coupled with a reduced incoming stream of residents, skilled nursing leaders expect it may be 18 months before their occupancy can recover to pre-COVID levels,” Cory Rutledge, managing principal at CliftonLarsonAllen, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. 

Weekly occupancy data trends from the federal government’s National Healthcare Safety Network’s database revealed median occupancy rates for skilled nursing providers have fallen as low as 75% in each of the three most recently reported weeks, according to CLA. That’s a steep drop from the 84.5% 2018 median occupancy rate the firm reported in its most recent SNF trends report.

“Skilled nursing leaders have referenced that the decline in occupancy is a combination of reduced hospital discharges and a reduction in elective surgeries,” Rutledge noted. 

“In addition, some skilled nursing facilities have experienced a significant occupancy decline due to COVID-19 infections in their building, which augments the issue,” he added. 

Last week, experts with the National Investment Center for Senior Housing & Care said the pandemic and falling occupancy numbers have put the industry in a “challenging state,” but added the struggles won’t continue forever and nursing home care will eventually be needed.