Acknowledging increased competition from home health and home care providers, executives from long-term care companies said they’re focusing on innovation and creativity to compete for clients. The executives made the comments Tuesday during the Synergy Summit.

Forrest Peterson, CEO of Phoenix-based Bandera Healthcare, a subsidiary of The Ensign Group, said during the pandemic that doctors have been pushing many patients into home care as a safer, cheaper alternative to long-term care. He acknowledged that push could continue after the public health emergency ends, so skilled nursing companies like his need to focus more on sicker patients.

“I think pushing for a higher acuity is going to be very helpful to us,” Peterson said.

According to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), senior living occupancy in the U.S. reached a record low in the first quarter of this year, falling 1.8 percentage points compared with the last quarter of 2020. Skilled nursing facilities have seen record-low occupancy as well. Peterson said it is too soon to tell whether occupancy will ever return to pre-pandemic levels.

Still, the executives said Tuesday they were getting creative in competing with home care agencies for both clients and employees.

Norman Rokeach, president of Marquis Limited, said his assisted living and skilled nursing facilities are offering workers more flexible schedules and ensuring staff members get breaks. He said the company has also developed special facilities to appeal to various ethnic resident populations.

“We’ve developed in South New Jersey a Korean program, catering to the Korean population. In Massachusetts, we’ve developed a Spanish program where there is a very heavy Spanish population. In Pennsylvania, we have an Indian program, catering to the Indian community. So it’s really thinking outside the box,” Rokeach said.

While the home care industry has syphoned away business from senior housing and care providers during the pandemic, some operators of long-term care facilities see opportunity. Tim Fields, CEO of Ignite Medical Resorts, told the conference audience his luxury rehabilitation facilities in the Midwest are seeing some patients returning after leaving for in-home care.

“In the Midwest, we don’t have very many sophisticated home health operators. We see a lot of them bouncing back to the hospital. We hear a lot of them aren’t doing well and they bounce back to our setting,” Fields said.

See additional coverage of this session in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.