Average occupancy for skilled nursing operators nationwide rose for a fourth straight month. Despite those strides, it still remains far from its pre-pandemic levels of 85.5%, according to the latest data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). 

NIC MAP Data reported Wednesday revealed that SNF occupancy rose another 23 basis points to reach 73.4% from April to May. That’s 211 basis points higher than when occupancy hit a record-low in January. 

Bill Kauffman
Bill Kauffman

“There is cautious optimism for increased occupancy through 2021, although recent news about the rapid spread of the contagious COVID-19 Delta variant is concerning,” NIC Senior Principal Bill Kaufman wrote in a related blog post.

“That said, the skilled nursing industry is still challenged by very low occupancy and the fact that government stimulus funds may be exhausted soon unless additional funds are provided,” he added. 

NIC’s findings come as several long-term care operators have reported significant inroads made on occupancy during the second-quarter, but the improvements still haven’t been enough to make up for the severe financial challenges caused by the pandemic and exacerbated labor shortages.

“Hence, the question remains as to how fast the industry can increase occupancy to a sustainable level,” Kauffman speculated. 

The NIC analysis also found that Medicaid revenue per patient day decreased another $2 and dropped to $241 by the end of May after hitting a high of $244 in February. However, the figure is still 3.3% higher from pre-pandemic levels of $233 reported in February, 2020. 

“Medicaid reimbursement has increased more than usual as many states embraced measures to increase reimbursement related to the number of COVID-19 cases,” Kauffman explained. “On the other hand, covering the cost of care for Medicaid patients is still a major concern as reimbursement does not cover the cost in many states.”