Nursing home occupancy levels increased to 71.2 percent in February 2021 compared to 70.7 percent from the previous month, according to NIC MAP® data prepared and released by NIC MAP Vision, which are both products of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care (NIC).

This brought the occupancy rate back to its December 2020 level. Despite the February improvement, occupancy remains 13.7 percentage points below its pre-pandemic level, NIC said.

The February NIC MAP occupancy data are starting to reinforce trends from other data sources. COVID-19 case counts at skilled nursing facilities are down 98 percent since December 2020 and the launch of the long term care vaccination program, according to NIC.

Additionally, more than four in five operators in senior housing and skilled nursing are reporting an increase in lead volume since the beginning of the year, according to NIC’s latest Executive Survey Insights.

“February’s NIC MAP data underscore what some skilled nursing facility operators have been saying the past few months: They are starting to see occupancy stabilization,” said Beth Burnham Mace, NIC’s chief economist. “Data from the next few months will be extremely important, as it will signal whether this is the start of a longer trend toward recovery.”

NIC MAP data powered by NIC MAP Vision show traditional Medicare revenue per patient day was steady at $555, but the share of Medicare revenue declined to 23.4 percent from 25.1 percent in January. The share of Medicare Advantage revenue increased to 11.1 percent, up from its pandemic low of 8.3 percent in May of 2020.

“Hospitals resuming elective surgeries and discharging patients to skilled nursing facilities may be responsible for greater share of Medicare Advantage revenue, thereby boosting occupancy,” said Bill Kauffman, senior principal at NIC. “Occupancy is still near historic lows, and many facilities will need to see substantial increases in occupancy in order to stabilize the balance sheet.”

NIC said as nursing homes begin to move beyond the pandemic, occupancy is an important indicator of recovery. Older adults continue to need an array of options for long term care, given personal preferences and health and mobility status. These include institutional settings for people with acute or multiple chronic conditions or mobility challenges and home- and community-based options, NIC said.

Click here to access the latest NIC MAP skilled nursing data.