Long-term care providers entered 2020 thinking it was going to be one of the best years ever for the sector, but their hopes were quickly shattered following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in late February. 

Despite the trying year, operators should be hopeful that business will come back stronger than before, said the leader of the nation’s largest nursing home association. 

AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark
Parkinson speaks Thursday during the
association’s virtual convention.

“It won’t be easy, it will take some time, there will be bumps along the way, but we will get back to where we were,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, said Thursday.

Parkinson was speaking during a virtual general session at the association’s 71st Annual Convention and Expo, where he highlighted the ups and downs providers have experienced because of the national health emergency. He recalled that the Patient Driven Payment Model, which went into effect in October, was all the sector talked about coming into 2020. 

“We thought, ‘Oh great, we finally have a payment system that works for us and works for our residents. We thought we were going to have a tremendous year. Assisted living was rolling along well. We thought that 2020 was going to be a great year,” Parkinson noted. 

“Well, it turned out that all of those things were pretty minor and 2020 became the most challenging year that we’ve ever had. It’s been a clinical nightmare and it’s been a financial disaster,” he added. 

There have been nearly 60,000 COVID-19 deaths and about 253,000 confirmed cases among long-term care residents, according to the most recent federal data. 

An August survey by AHCA/NCAL revealed that more than 70% of nursing homes didn’t think they’ll be able to sustain operations for another year under the current conditions caused by the pandemic. Parkinson noted that operators’ struggles have centered around increased equipment costs, staffing shortages, reduced occupancy and more federal regulations — all caused or worsened by the pandemic.

“When you add all of this up — a clinical nightmare, a business challenge, continual blame — I wouldn’t blame you at all if you gave up,” he told members tuned into his online address.

“But, you didn’t quit. In some parts of the world when buildings were struck with COVID, the employees fled, leaving the residents there to fend for themselves. But that didn’t happen in the United States and it didn’t happen in your buildings. You never quit,” he observed. 

Parkinson encouraged providers to remember that “this fight isn’t over yet. We’ve still got a ways to go but it will get better.”

“I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen dark days myself and we will get back to where we were,” he vowed.