Nursing Homes News: COVID-19 Cases Decline, Occupancy Ticks up Slightly, Staffing Concerns Continue

On March 30, 2021, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), issued a new report showing a 96% decline in new COVID-19 cases in nursing homes between the disease’s peak in December 20, 2020 through March 7, 2021. Correspondingly, there has been a 91% decline in COVID-related deaths during the same time period.

The reported rate of decline in nursing homes is significant, especially compared to the general population, which only saw a 72% decline in COVID cases between December 20, 2020 – and March 7, 2021, according to the report.

“It’s great to see this data, which we hope will provide encouragement to hospitals, caregivers and patients considering entrance into a nursing home,” said Terry Ramey, chief operating officer for backup pharmacy (MedCallRx, InMedRx and GeriScriptRx) and Complete Delivery Solution divisions of Care Services, LLC. “With a growing elderly population who will potentially need long-term care services, we hope data like this will restore faith that nursing homes can provide safe care for those in need.”

While the reduction in COVID cases in nursing homes is optimistic, nursing homes are struggling with occupancy rates. Earlier this year, a study by CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA) reported that no skilled nursing facility (SNF) in the continental U.S. had an occupancy rate of 80% or higher, with Texas being the hardest hit state for SNFs with just 56% occupancy.

The successful roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines in long-term care communities is helping to bolster confidence and CLA now reports that low occupancy rates bottomed out at the end of 2020, and the industry occupancy numbers are slowly creeping upward. CLA uses data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDS) for its analyses.

Beyond filling beds, perhaps the biggest challenge ahead for most nursing homes is staffing. A report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund said that in December 2020, more than 3,000 U.S. nursing homes, of approximately 15,000 nationwide, had a shortage of nurses or other direct-care staff. While staffing shortages have been a challenge for some time, the COVID pandemic has exacerbated it.

AHCA and LeadingAge have released the Care for our Seniors Act aimed at addressing the challenges of providing quality care in U.S. nursing homes. The Act focuses on four keys for improvement and also calls for a multi-phase, tiered approach to attract, retain and develop more long-term care professionals.

MedCall continues to track key proposals, news and census reports related to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, as we monitor the financial recovery of facilities and the pharmacies serving them in our industry. New information will be posted in our PharmAssist blog and newsletters.