woman unpacking boxes

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Senior living move-ins accelerated in the past 30 days due to increased demand, leading to an expectation of an increase in operating margins on the horizon, according to the results of the latest NIC Executive Survey.

In the Wave 33 survey, approximately half of respondents with senior living — independent living or assisted living — residences reported an uptick in move-ins — a notable increase from the previous survey, according to NIC Senior Principal Lana Peck. 

Almost 35% of senior living organizations had residents waiting to move in November 2020 during the third peak of the virus. That number has dropped to 19% as of Oct. 3. 

The backlog of move-ins began to ease after COVID-19 vaccines were introduced in long-term care, but COVID cases surged again as the delta variant became prominent in the general population.

Occupancy

But optimism regarding occupancy recovery is strengthening, according to NIC. Almost three-fourths (73%) of respondents said they expect their organization’s occupancy to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, up from 57% in the Wave 25 survey in late March / early April.

Between 50% and 60% of organizations with independent living, assisted living and memory care units have reported an increase in occupancy across their portfolios in the past 30 days, compared with 40% of organizations with nursing care beds. 

The independent living sector saw the highest increase in occupancy at 57%, equal to a peak reached in mid-May, although the increases were relatively small: between 0.1 and 3 percentage points, NIC said. The memory care sector saw a 55% increase in occupancy, followed by assisted living at 53% and nursing care at 43%. Between one-fourth and one-third of organizations with assisted living, memory care and / or nursing care units saw occupancy increases of three percentage points or more.

Staffing

Staffing shortages before the pandemic and exacerbated by it persist, according to the survey. Seniors housing and care operators reported resorting to overtime and agency / temporary staff to fill gaps and replace workers.

Respondents reporting staffing challenges rose from 75% in earlier surveys to 90% by August. And wages and benefits are significant operator expenses for senior housing properties, comprising up to 60% of overall expenses.

Operating margins

Approximately half of respondents (49%) reported that they expect operating margins to increase in the next six months, with about 31% anticipating an increase of between 1% and 5%. About 25% expect operating margins to decrease by between 1% and 5%.

Rent concessions have not varied significantly since last summer, according to poll participants, with 51% saying they are using them to attract new residents. Fewer are offering rent discounts than in previous surveys — 59% versus 78% in Waves 27 and 29 —  but more (69%) are incentivizing with free rent for a specific period of time.

The Wave 33 survey includes responses collected Sept. 7 to Oct. 3 from owners and executives of 67 senior housing and skilled nursing operators.