TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — As Florida’s long-term care industry slowly rebounds from the pandemic, it’s now on the brink of another crisis. This time, it’s all about the money.
“I think if we don’t see us starting to rebuild occupancy, I think you could see some challenges where we might see some facilities close,” said Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for the Florida Health Care Association, the state’s leading nursing home association.
The same financial disaster is also hitting the state’s 3,000+ assisted living facilities, according to Gail Matillo, Executive Director of the Florida Senior Living Association.
“We’re sitting here going what are we going to do,” Matillo told us recently.
After a year of living and working in crisis mode, Florida’s industry for the aging is in the red with losses estimated at well over $650 million, according to industry leaders.
During a recent meeting in Tallahassee, Emmett Reed, Executive Director of the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), made his first plea to state lawmakers for help.
“The long-term care sector has been one of the hardest hit in the COVID-19 pandemic. Quite frankly, a work shortage plus COVID-19 has put us in a great crisis,” he told lawmakers during an appropriations committee meeting.
According to Reed, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a 181% increase in nursing home staffing costs in 2020 versus 2019 along with historic costs for PPE and testing. Couple that with occupancy rates down 15% across nursing homes in Florida, many centers are now operating at less than a 1% profit margin, said Reed.
In the assisted living industry, more than half of the state’s facilities are also operating at a loss, and occupancy in some centers is down to just 50%, according to Matillo.
“We’ve never seen occupancy rates this low…ever,” she said.
Unlike assisted living facilities, nursing homes are typically paid for through Medicare and Medicaid. While extra federal funding offered some assistance during the pandemic, the increased costs of PPE, COVID testing and staffing have far exceeded any funding help received, according to the FHCA.
Industry leaders are now in the midst of making their cases for financial assistance to state and federal lawmakers. Since assisted living facilities don’t rely on government funding and instead depend on private pay, the industry fears closures and rate hikes may be inevitable at this point.
“That’s exactly what we’re worried about,” she said adding closures could leave the state’s growing aging population with fewer options for care.
It’s too early to predict what rate hikes could look like but a recent study from seniorliving.org found the average monthly costs for nursing home care in Florida was up 11% since 2016, nearly $1,000 more than the national average.
As the industry works to rebound costs and increase occupancy, industry leaders advise families to shop around and speak with the administrator of a facility. With many centers desperate to fill rooms, the industry’s current financial instability could open the door to special rates and deals or families of loved ones in long-term care.