It’s no secret long term care (LTC) facilities were among those hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 1, more than 1.38 million people across approximately 32,000 LTC facilities in the United States had contracted the virus.

Thankfully, widespread vaccinations have drastically slowed down the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and other LTC facilities. In fact, data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show there has been a nearly 99 percent decline in new COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents from Dec. 20, 2020, to June 14.

With this clinical crisis now largely under control, operators have been able to turn their attention to the pandemic’s longer-lasting business ramifications. For one, occupancy in skilled nursing facilities hit an all-time low in December after dropping 13.3 percentage points from February 2020, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

Today, census is ticking upward, and LTC facilities remain essential care settings for aging Americans. But with relatively low margins in the skilled nursing and senior living sectors and a worsening national caregiver shortage, operators of these facilities are at a pivotal point where recovery is key.

Securing State and Federal Support

To support the industry’s recovery, it will be critical to get more funding for providers at both state and federal levels in 2021, said American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Parkinson at MatrixCare’s Inspire 2021 event, held virtually March 5-6.

The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill President Biden signed into effect on March 11 included $350 billion for states, territories, and localities. According to Parkinson, this funding provided an opportunity for states to shore up their Medicaid programs and continue supporting LTC facilities within their states. For those that hadn’t provided adequate support, it was an opportunity to step up to the plate.

ACHA and NCAL are continuing to advocate for more federal relief as well. Parkinson noted at Inspire that there is approximately $32.5 billion left in the provider relief fund, and he hopes that organizations will be able to access that fund to provide additional support for both skilled nursing and assisted living communities.

Taking Action Internally

With external factors continuing to evolve, it’s important LTC facilities employ their own strategies to rebuild occupancy and recoup business this year. Technology is a good place to start, as it’s one of the only solutions that can promptly and effectively address the myriad challenges providers find themselves facing today. Below are three key areas providers should consider as they evaluate their current technology or others on the market based on their abilities to aid in recovery.

Leveraging Data Analytics: With resources tight, it’s critical LTC facilities operate as efficiently as possible. Data analytics allow providers to replace manual number crunching with targeted action by producing tailored insights that can serve as a road map for improving business and resident care.

For example, predictive analytics can analyze patient data and guide clinical workflow toward the highest-risk residents, while traditional analytics can track key performance indicators in real time and identify areas for improvement.

Strengthening Referrals: Referrals are critical for rebuilding census. Interoperability, namely electronic data sharing, is a key factor for acute and ambulatory care providers when choosing where to send their patients in post-acute care. In fact, 78 percent of referring providers said they’re likely to send more referrals to skilled nursing facilities that can support advanced interoperability workflows and seamless electronic data exchange. With this, adopting interoperability becomes a business strategy for capturing and maintaining a steady flow of referrals.

Scaling and Diversifying a Business: An important strategy for LTC facilities this year and in the years ahead will be leveraging core competencies to differentiate and diversify care models and offerings. Diversifying care into adjacent programs, such as skilled nursing at home, will allow facilities to tap into the rising demand for aging in place and recover business faster. Working with a technology provider that offers purpose-built solutions for a number of post-acute care settings is critical to this strategy, making it easier to scale while keeping operations streamlined under one core solution.

While it’s impossible to control external factors like federal relief and regulations, facilities today have an opportunity to evaluate their technology strategy with an eye toward maximizing existing resources, improving connectivity, and scaling for the future. Doing so will help providers recover in the near term and succeed for the long term.

Gary Pederson is executive vice president, Facility Division, at MatrixCare, the country’s largest post-acute care technology provider. He has over 25 years of experience in health technology, including time spent at Cerner, Toshiba Medical Systems, and Siemens Medical. Pederson can be reached at