It’s “too early” to think that an increase in discharges to home health, as opposed to skilled nursing, will remain in place beyond the pandemic, according to executives with LTC Properties. 

“We do have that expectation [that SNF occupancy will improve] as electives [surgeries] start to get scheduled here,” Pam Kessler, the real estate investment trust’s co-president, chief financial officer and secretary, said during a fourth-quarter earnings call Friday. 

“I think it’s too early to say whether home health has become a more permanent solution,” she added. 

Recent data has shown dramatic increases of patients being discharged into home health settings and sharp declines of discharges to SNFs, which has aided in record occupancy slides for the sector during the pandemic.

Kessler explained that in many cases elective surgeries have been postponed for residents who will require more complex, 24-hour care afterwards, which is something that home care can’t provide. 

“So, I think it’s too early to determine if the discharge patterns have been permanently altered. Right now, the conventional wisdom is they’ll trend back to normal to pre-COVID,” Kessler said. 

The company reported that its skilled nursing average monthly occupancy fell from 70% in September to 66% in December and January.

The drop was also noticeable in its private-pay senior living occupancy, which languished at 79%, to 72%, to 71%, respectively, in September, December and January.

Census bottomed out?

Executives noted that while they cannot predict when occupancy will rebound, they are assured that it will recover to pre-pandemic levels. 

“We do believe that the industry census is close to or has hit bottom,” Chairman and CEO Wendy Simpson said. 

“As the current vaccines, and hopefully a third from Johnson & Johnson, become more widely available and utilized, visitation opens up, communities and facilities continue to aggressively market their services and consumers’ confidence in these settings improve, we should see the current census stabilize and even improve,” she said. 

“However, visibility to these events remain low so we can’t predict when that might happen or when the industry will be able to fully recover from the effect of the pandemic,” she added.