Mark Parkinson headshot
AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson

As COVID-19 vaccines continue to be rolled out at skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities nationwide, the “clinical nightmare” soon will be in the long-term care industry’s rearview mirror. The virus’ resulting “business nightmare” — a dramatic drop in census — may be more difficult to tackle, however, said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living.

“There’s an incredible amount of work that will need to happen to get us to where we were before this all began,” Parkinson said during a virtual question and answer discussion last week with Synchrony Health Services.

The CEO noted that within skilled nursing, the industry entered the pandemic at an occupancy level of approximately 80%, and by June 1, it had dropped to 72% and then stayed around that level for the next six months, falling to about 71% by Nov. 1.

“At that time, I and many industry leaders were thinking, ‘OK, we’re down 9%, and the vaccines are coming. We can recover from this thing,’ ” he recalled. “Then the third wave of COVID hit. …In three short months, we’ve gone from 71% to 67%.” 

Now the skilled nursing industry is starting its recovery down 13%, an unprecedented low. Parkinson said his hope is that after March 1, once every resident in skilled nursing has been vaccinated, that the public will feel more confident, and view skilled nursing as safe again, and that in turn, will allow the census to begin to recover. 

“We need census to recover at a rate of about 1% a month, and while that doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s not as easy as it might seem,” he said. “If the census doesn’t recover at all, or recover slower than that, the sector has a real problem.”

The pandemic also has driven senior living occupancy to all-time lows, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care’s NIC MAP Data Service.

This article appeared in the McKnight’s Business Daily, a joint effort of McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.