January 28, 2021 | Net Health

3 Minute Read

Rising Costs, Reduced Occupancy: 4 Ways for SNFs to Navigate the New Normal

2021 comes with increasing availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines, but skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) continue to face significant operational challenges: 65 percent are already operating at a loss and just 34 percent believe they’ll survive this year.1

Why? Rising costs combined with falling revenues are part of the problem. The expected physician fee schedule adjustment was set to reduce Medicare Part B therapy payment rates by approximately 9%, and while the recent COVID relief package will change that reduction to an estimated 3.3-3.6% for therapists, this will only provide some temporary help. For many SNFs, the short-term fix won’t be enough.2

Reduced occupancy is also an issue. With SNFs facing higher-than-average COVID mortality rates when compared to community living for adults 69 and over, occupancy is falling as clients look for other ways to care for aging relatives and reduce total health risk.3

But it’s not all bad news. While evolving operational requirements demand adjustments to boost profitability and bolster patient care, the right approach can deliver long-term sustainability. Here are four ways for SNFs to effectively navigate the new normal.

1. Work Smarter, Not Harder

As noted by the CDC, SNFs must take extra precautions to ensure the safety of staff and residents.4 To help meet this goal, 90 percent of skilled nursing facilities have either hired new staff, approved more overtime — or both — to improve patient care, while 86 percent offered “hero pay” for dedicated employees.5

And while these measures are necessary, they’re also costly, putting SNFs in a difficult position when it comes to long-term sustainability. Here, robust business intelligence tools offer a way to streamline staff deployments and limit overspending. Armed with granular insight into key metrics for specific roles and real-time operational insights, SNFs can better distribute staff on-demand to ensure they’ve got the right people doing the right job at the right time to reduce total costs.

2. Curtail Compliance Complexity

SNFs face significant compliance challenges around facility cleaning, COVID-19 testing protocols and potential visitor screenings to curtail illness outbreaks.6 Combined with the increasing need for comprehensive physician and therapy staff documentation and sign-off on treatment plans and protocols, solving for compliance complexity quickly becomes a full-time job. 

By deploying secure, on-demand digital therapy portals that deliver industry-leading content libraries, flexible mobile access and paperless eSignature services, however, it’s possible for SNFs to curtail complexity and drive quality at the point of care.

3. Stand Out From the Crowd

As part of the ongoing COVID-19 fallout, SNF occupancy rates are still falling.7 But with vaccine rollouts ramping up, it’s only a matter of time before new residents and their families start looking for facilities that have weathered the storm — and can offer assurances of improved patient safety.

With 80 percent of potential clients now evaluating potential providers online and 76 percent putting their trust in online reviews, however, SNFs need to stand out from the digital crowd. This starts with search standardization — ensuring facility information is current and consistent across all major search sources — and is sustained by active reputation management that encourages satisfied patients to leave positive reviews and alerts admin staff to any new reviews, empowering prompt and professional responses.

4. Embrace Virtual Value

No matter how quickly life returns to “normal”, some pandemic processes — such as the deployment and use of telehealth services — will have long-term impact. Consider the new CMS physician fee schedule, which adds almost 60 telehealth services to the covered Category 3 list until December 31, 2021, paving the way for their potential adoption as permanent Category 1 or 2 additions.8

To ensure they’re prepared for ongoing, online health operations and connect with patients to drive revenue at a distance, SNFs must invest in both robust IT infrastructure and secure telehealth technologies — such as videoconferencing and text messaging — needed to connect with clients anywhere, anytime.  

Ready to streamline operations and support sustainable revenue? Navigate the new normal of rising costs and reduced SNF occupancy with Net Health® Therapy for Skilled Nursing Facilities and Digital Marketing Services.

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1Skilled Nursing News, “65% of Nursing Homes Operating at a Loss — and Just 34% Will Survive 2021, Industry Survey Suggests,” December 16, 2020.

2H.R. 133 (116th): H.R. 133: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Including Coronavirus Stimulus & Relief)

3JAMA Network, “Risk Factors Associated With Mortality Among Residents With Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Long-term Care Facilities in Ontario, Canada,” July 22, 2020.

4CDC, “People Who Live in a Nursing Home or Long-Term Care Facility,” September 11, 2020.

5Skilled Nursing New, “65% of Nursing Homes Operating at a Loss — and Just 34% Will Survive 2021, Industry Survey Suggests,” December 16, 2020. 

6CDC, “Preparing for COVID-19 in Nursing Homes,” November 20, 2020.

7McKnight’s Senior Living, “Skilled nursing occupancy hits new low of 73.8%: NIC,” November 5, 2020.

8CMS, “CY 2021 Payment Policies Under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Changes to Part B Payment Policies,” December 28, 2020.

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