COVID-19’s Uneven Impact on Senior Housing Occupancy

The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care found that occupancy at assisted living facilities fell to the lowest level on record in May.

Chart courtesy of NIC

Stabilized occupancy rates at the nation’s assisted living facilities fell to 85.2 percent in May, the lowest level on record, as the COVID-19 crisis slowed the pace of move-ins to the property type, according to data released by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

Assisted living occupancy across major metropolitan markets stood at 87.9 percent in February 2020 and 87.8 percent in March, before dropping 260 basis points from March to May, a new report by the nonprofit shows. The pandemic had a milder impact on independent living properties, where occupancy fell by 190 basis points to 89.5 percent from March to May.

READ ALSO: Senior Housing Faces Biggest Test in COVID-19

The onset of the virus in the U.S. prompted many families to hold back on moving their elderly relatives into both skilled nursing facilities and senior housing, a category that includes assisted living and independent living communities. According to NIC’s latest survey of owners and executives in the industry, a large percentage of organizations saw a deceleration in move-ins over the 30 days through June 7—specifically, 46 percent for independent living, 42 percent for assisted living and 64 percent for nursing care—though these figures showed significant improvement over previous surveys.

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Roughly two-thirds of organizations chalked up the move-in slump to a slowdown in leads conversions and sales, while about half cited concerns by residents or family members. Around one-quarter of respondents were affected by a mandatory government-imposed ban.

“There were some organizations that chose to impose bans on move-ins, because the risks of moving in someone were significant in terms of their potential to infect the rest of the population if they had the coronavirus,” NIC’s chief economist Beth Mace told Multi-Housing News.

The highest-acuity facilities, those that cater to the most needy residents, tended to see the largest drops in occupancy. The occupancy rate at skilled nursing facilities fell 220 basis points to 84.7 percent from March to April, according to a previous report by NIC.

Assisted living facilities, where residents are relatively healthy but need some type of assistance with activities of daily living, experienced a sharper decline in occupancy during the pandemic than independent living. The May occupancy rate for assisted living was down 290 basis points year-on-year, compared to independent living, which declined 190 basis points from May 2019.

Once properties began to re-open, Mace pointed out, “at least anecdotally, there’s evidence of a long queue or wait list of people waiting to come in—especially in the case of assisted living, because that has more of a need-based component to it.”

The impact was also uneven across markets, with NIC’s non-primary markets witnessing occupancy declines of 240 and 170 basis points for assisted living and independent living, respectively, between March and May—a more moderate impact than in the 31 major city markets.

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