Technology can improve both the top and bottom line
Long-term care facility resident census is still well below pre=pandemic levels. Compounding that challenge is the staffing shortage that is straining already over-burdened caregivers. In this environment, potential residents and their families can be selective in their search for long-term care. It's a buyer's market, which means that a strong customer experience is critical to attracting and retaining residents. Providing that experience while reducing staff challenges will strengthen both the top and bottom line for care communities. Technology can make both goals possible.
Census rallied in 2021, but still below pre-pandemic levels
While occupancy rates for US long-term care facilities has rebounded from the pandemic's low rate below 70%, they are still well below pre-pandemic levels. The median occupancy rate for nursing homes in the U.S. had fallen from 85% in January 2020, right before the pandemic shut down the country, to 68% in January 2021, according to a report from CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA), a consulting and accounting firm. The occupancy rate was 74% in September, due in part to vaccinations and declining rates of cases.
COVID staffing headwinds keep communities from efficiently adding census
Centers are financially burdened by the lower rates of occupancy as well as the higher rates of staffing hours and the decreasing cost of a bed in these facilities, according to the CLA eport. Between January 2020 and January 2021, the median price per bed was 8% lower.
About 58 percent of the nation's 14,000 nursing homes are limiting admissions, according to a voluntary survey conducted by the American Health Care Association. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 420,000 employees, many of them low-paid certified nursing assistants - the backbone of the nursing home workforce, have left since February 2020.
"Operators in the business have said we could admit more patients, but we cannot find the staff to allow that to happen," said Bill Kauffman, senior principal at the organization - National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. This puts long-term care facilities under tremendous financial burden. Industry analysts generally believe that occupancy must exceed 80 percent for facilities to be profitable.
Census builds the bottom line
As occupancy increases, there is a disproportionately positive impact to a SNF's operating margins. This is due to the correlation of covering fixed costs, while incrementally increasing variable costs. As reported in CLA's 35th SNF Cost Comparison and Industry Trends Report, median operating margins were 0% pre-COVID. That means that the typical facility is only breaking even.
The immediate, drastic, and sustained reductions in occupancy effectively eliminated any operating income SNF operators had pre-pandemic. While growing occupancy is critical, growth is dependent on an operator's ability to incrementally increase staffing in correlation with patient admissions. Operators must also consider the reimbursement associated with the admissions.
People can be choosy - attract them with good customer experience
A positive customer experience for residents and staff increases ratings and improves reviews. These critical factors heavily influence prospective residents during their long-term care searches. Providing real-time vital information and empowering residents and their families to help themselves gives them confidence and satisfaction in their choice of care community. This confidence and satisfaction encourages positive reviews. Some key elements of good customer experience include:
- Sharing vitals, meds and chart info
- Enabling families to schedule visits without phone calls
- Communicating in a timely and comprehensive manner
- Seeking resident and family feedback
Do more with less - use tech to reduce repetitive tasks
Technology can relieve the burden of mundane non-care related tasks. Automating repetitive tasks and sharing information with existing EHR systems reduces the number of steps required to complete a variety of family communication tasks. Empowering families to gather data on their own reduces the number of phone calls disrupting caregivers' daily routine - which can save more than $10/interaction, according to a study conducted by How's Mom client EmpRes. Providing a streamlined real-time communication and data sharing platform for families and all of their loved ones' caregivers can dramatically reduce unnecessary conversations, as well.
How's Mom Can Help
The How's Mom app and Connections Hub enable organizations to streamline feedback solicitation and communication with residents and family members, with a full suite of tools, including chart views, mass notifications, visit planning, family feedback and more. This convenient software makes family communication a powerful - and easily manageable - tool for improving customer experiences and building census.
Download our free Customer Experience Resource Guide
Download our free Customer Experience Resource Guide to gain a greater understanding of:
- How the families of residents play a key role in their experience
- The emerging customer experiences essential to building up census