Though home healthcare rolls were devastated in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has rebounded more quickly than its skilled nursing peers, according to a new analysis from Avalere Health.
Home health has actually gained on its pre-pandemic discharge levels, according to a six-month review of Medicare fee-for-service claims. The sector had a 4.6% greater discharge volume in June 2020 versus June 2019, indicating home settings may have been the preferred post-acute option as many hospitals reinstated elective procedures.
The declines in both sectors hit hard starting in February, with modest improvements obvious in the home health market in May, according to Avalere.
But discharges to skilled nursing facilities remain significantly below their pre-pandemic level, with a 25.4% decrease in year-over-year discharges.
“Hospital discharges are steadily moving back to pre-pandemic levels, but our analysis points to an uneven ‘return to normal’ across care settings,” wrote consultant Heather Flynn.
The initial drop largely was attributed to the temporary suspension of optional surgical procedures and an overall reduction in inpatient hospitalization.
The analysis points out the “differential impact” of COVID-19 on institutional and home settings, noting that some hospitals may simply discharge patients without any kind of post-acute care.
Though the Avalere analysis ran through June, new numbers reported by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care revealed July brought continued bad news for the skilled nursing sector, with a 74.6% occupancy rate. That’s down from 84% at the same time last year.
Both organizations noted geographic variations in discharges and occupancy rates, with the greatest COVID-related SNF declines in urban settings, according to NIC. Each also underscored that COVID surges as fall and winter approach could undermine gains made to date.