Just as recent efforts to vaccinate long-term care patients and frontline healthcare workers began at the end of December, occupancy at the nation’s skilled nursing facilities reached its lowest level since the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care first began collecting these data in 2012. Census rates for December fell to 71.7%, a decline of 13.3 percentage points since February of last year, according to findings from the NIC MAP Data Service.

Yet even with vaccinations beginning to significantly curb COVID-19 cases and mortalities in skilled nursing facilities, NIC experts say they are uncertain whether all facilities will be able to sustain their financial wellbeing amid these significantly lower occupancy rates without the sustained support of the federal government.

“Federal government support was essential last year for many skilled nursing facilities to continue to serve patients,” said Bill Kauffman, senior principal at NIC. “Whether all skilled nursing facilities can remain financially sustainable going forward will depend in part on additional governmental support as part of COVID relief and how quickly the bounce back in occupancy will occur.” 

NIC MAP data show the share from Medicare revenue increasing, which NIC experts say results from a federal rule change shifting Medicaid patients into Medicare during the COVID-19 emergency. The share of Medicare revenue increased between November to December to 23.3%, whereas the share of Medicaid revenue hit a new low, ending the year at 43.7%. It decreased 8.4 percentage points since March, when it was 52.2%.

In addition, the latest data from NIC’s ongoing Executive Survey also point to positive signs of census recovery, as the share of skilled nursing organizations reporting an acceleration in the pace of move-ins over the past month is higher than those reporting a deceleration — for the first time since the pandemic began.

“Positive signals are palpable in Wave 22 results, which reveal upward shifts in organizations reporting acceleration in move-ins and occupancy increases across each of the care segments in the past 30 days,” wrote Lana Peck, senior principal at NIC, in a blog post highlighting the latest survey results.

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