older woman wrapping a vase in bubble wrap

Independent living and assisted living operators continue to face occupancy pressures, whereas memory care and skilled nursing occupancy rates have remained fairly stable, according to specialty investment bank Ziegler’s November CFO Hotline survey on the effects of COVID-19.

The poll of 250 providers, largely representing nonprofit organizations, shows that independent living median occupancy dropped one percentage point across each of Ziegler’s three previous surveys. Assisted living fell to 85% by mid-November from 88% in early July. Memory care showed a median occupancy increase to 89% in mid-November, up from 88% in the previous two surveys, whereas skilled nursing held steady at 77%.

The poll shows that more operators are offering incentives to attract prospective residents. Almost four out of 10 (38%) are offering assistance with moving costs, up from three out of 10 (31%) at the end of August. About three out of 10 are offering discounts on entrance fees (29%) and monthly fees (28%), both of which increased from the previous survey at 23% and 17%, respectively. Deferred payment of entry fees (24%) or waiving of monthly fees (19%) remained consistent with the last survey.

Regarding staff perks, providers continue to offer many of the same additional benefits and compensation adjustments they did back in April. As of November, a larger number of providers are offering flexible work schedules (59.4% compared with 49.6% in April) and bonus pay (50.7% compared with 43.6% in April). 

One area seeing a notable decrease in offerings is child care services; only 6.6% of providers are offering this benefit in November, compared with 18.6% in April. Fewer providers also are offering additional paid time off and paid sick leave in November (28.4%) compared with April (38.2%).

When asked about reducing expenses, respondents indicated that they are adjusting their workforces due to lower occupancy, delaying campus improvement or maintenance projects, instituting hiring freezes, carefully managing group purchasing and limiting travel.

Open-ended comments from the survey show COVID-fatigue is real. Comments included “Ready for it to be over,” “We are weary” and “Mentally exhausting for everyone to talk about and make plans everyday as we have to pivot to address all the changing guidance and news.”