Skilled Nursing Occupancy Continues Freefall, Dropping to New Record Low of 71.7 Percent

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Occupancy at U.S. skilled nursing facilities in December 2020 reached its lowest level since data have been collected, ending the year at 71.7 percent, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

The data comes from over 1,500 skilled nursing facilities in 48 states that report data to NIC, an Annapolis-based data and analytics organization serving the seniors housing industry. The report includes information through the end of 2020.

Average skilled nursing occupancy declined 13.3 percentage points since February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

NIC experts acknowledge that skilled nursing occupancy has been hit hard by COVID-19. However, the latest data does not account for recent efforts to vaccinate skilled nursing patients and frontline healthcare workers, who are at greater risk than the general population of contracting COVID-19.

“New COVID-19 cases and mortalities are dropping steadily due to the vaccine’s reach and effectiveness in skilled nursing settings,” says Beth Burnham Mace, NIC’s chief economist. “As vaccination rates rise, occupancy rates are likely to increase in the coming months.”

According to NIC’s Skilled Nursing COVID-19 Tracker, from Dec. 20 to Feb. 14, new weekly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in skilled nursing facilities fell 89 percent, while new cases nationwide fell 59 percent over the same period.

Even with vaccinations beginning to bring the crisis in skilled nursing facilities to an end, NIC experts are uncertain if all facilities will be able to sustain their financial wellbeing 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,” says 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.”

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