Close up image of a caretaker helping older woman walk

A slight increase in skilled nursing occupancy between the second and third quarters wasn’t enough to alleviate the financial uncertainty facing the industry as a result of the ongoing public health crisis, according to new findings from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. 

New data released by NIC Wednesday showed that SNF occupancy increased to 74% during the second and third quarters when the pandemic began impacting U.S. facilities.

SNF occupancy hit a record low of 73.8% between July and August. Despite the recent uptick, the figure is still well below the levels reported in February (84.9%) and March (83.5%).

“Many skilled nursing facilities survived the spring and summer because Congress authorized unprecedented financial aid,” warned Beth Burnham Mace, NIC’s chief economist. 

“But as funds become exhausted and COVID-19 cases rise with little likelihood of immediate government intervention, it will be difficult for many facilities to continue sustainable operations,” she explained. 

NIC Senior Principal Bill Kaufman added that the tough environment has created “unprecedented challenges” for SNF operators and they should be ready for a tough couple of months. 

“They are bracing for a difficult winter, given the latest surge in COVID-19 cases and no immediate additional government intervention. Due to COVID-19, NIC expects occupancy to remain dangerously low in the fourth quarter before vaccines become available to healthcare workers and skilled nursing residents,” Kaufman said. 

The data also revealed that SNF occupancy has declined more severely in urban areas, where levels fell 11.8 percentage points since February, compared to the 8.0 percentage point decline in rural areas in the same period.