Beth Burnham Mace

Occupancy at skilled nursing facilities took a hit following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic after showing signs of stabilization for several quarters, new data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) reveals. 

The NIC Intra-Quarterly Snapshot released Tuesday found that occupancy for nursing care facilities fell 2.2 percentage points to 84.7% in April, the first full month of the pandemic. In April 2019, stabilized occupancy was 87% for nursing care.

The decline shows the effects the pandemic has had on operators, according to Beth Mace, chief economist and director of outreach for NIC. Several nursing home companies, such as Sabra Healthcare REIT and Omega Healthcare, have reported significant drops in occupancy following COVID-19.

“That decline again happened in April and that’s when the first beginnings of COVID were really starting to impact the markets. The drop that we see in skilled nursing does reflect in occupancy and a change in move-ins, but it also reflects, in the case of skilled nursing, the fact that a lot of elective surgeries were postponed,” Mace told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News

“You often see skilled nursing properties work with patients as they come out of hospitals from elective surgeries for rehab. That had an impact on this data, as well. That explains some of the drop, that 220 basis point decline,” she added. 

It’s tough to predict how long providers may experience this trend in occupancy since that depends on the course of COVID-19, Mace said. 

“I think it’s sort of beyond anyone’s crystal ball,” Mace explained. “It’s largely a function of the coronavirus itself and how quickly we’ll get a vaccine, whether there will be a second wave, whether the flattening of the curve will continue, how much testing [and tracing] we can do, the extent of [personal protective equipment] out there.” 

Mace said financial outlooks for providers will depend on several variables, including the types of reserves they have and the position they had as they went into the pandemic. 

The report is part of a broader mission to create transparency and provide insights into the current conditions, according to Mace. NIC is planning to release additional occupancy data over the next several weeks and months to help assess market conditions as operators continue to work through the public health crisis. 

“The COVID crisis really pushed us at NIC to try to get the data out as fast as we could to try to inform the market of what’s going on,” Mace said.