February 5, 2021 | Net Health

3 min read

SNF Trends in 2021: What to Expect

While there’s no denying the impact of COVID-19 on skilled nursing facility (SNF) frameworks and finances, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.1 But what does a post-pandemic world look like for SNFs? Which processes go back to “normal” and which have been permanently impacted by infection prevention priorities? 

Here’s a look at five SNF trends in 2021 that can help care facilities meet evolving patient, market and regulatory expectations. 

1) Increased Focus on Patient Experience

Recent research found that 38% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States occur in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.2 As a result, improved patient care is a top priority for SNFs in 2021. This starts with effective infection control policies in place to manage current COVID threats and extends to larger, quality-of-life concerns — such as the ability of residents to easily connect with family and friends safely in person or virtually when this isn’t possible. SNFs should also expect a growing demand for skilled rehab therapists capable of helping residents manage long-term COVID effects including fatigue, joint pain and muscle pain.3

2) Improved Staff Retention

As noted by the NCBI, SNFs across the country faced staffing shortages during the pandemic, with 15.9% reporting a lack of licensed nursing staff and 18.4% struggling to find nurse aides.4 While part of the problem is tied to specific COVID challenges such as the need for increased testing and staff in isolation after potential exposure, post-COVID care conditions will also require more staff and skilled rehab therapists as families look for facilities that offer single-occupancy rooms, immediate caregiver response and consistent communication.

For SNFs, therefore, success in 2021 means finding skilled staff — and ensuring they stick around.  

3) Enhanced Regulatory Compliance 

Perhaps the most significant impact of the pandemic has been increased regulatory rigor as SNFs found themselves on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight. As noted by Skilled Nursing News, for example, states like Illinois are deploying stricter enforcement around staffing, while New Jersey is reducing resident-to-nursing staff ratios and CMS is on-track for a cultural shift with new C-suite staff.5

As a result, SNFs and skilled rehab therapists should expect 2021 to be a year of ongoing regulatory change as state and federal agencies assess the impact of COVID-19 and implement policies designed to minimize the damage of a similar event. 

4) Reduced Operational Complexity

Single-source supply chains were among the first functions to fail in the early days of COVID-19.6 Almost a year later, SNFs have deployed multi-layered supply solutions to help solve this problem — but have introduced a new issue of their own: complexity. Combined with expanding regulatory reporting requirements, SNFs now face a significant uptick in operational complexity.

In 2021, expect a pivot to robust management solutions that help SNFs streamline processes and reduce complexity without compromising patient care.

5) Targeted Market Strategies

Pre-COVID, the AARP reported that “3 out of 4 adults age 50 and older want to stay in their homes and communities as they age.”7  And with seniors in assisted care at greater risk of severe infection outcomes, SNFs should expect prospective residents and their families to be even more selective if an out-of-home move becomes essential. 

Here, improved marketing can help bolster SNF success. By highlighting improved care ratios, articulating enhanced infection protocols and offering robust pre-move services such as telehealth consultations, it’s possible for SNFs and skilled rehab therapists to engage with patients no matter where they are in their healthcare journey.

Tackle new SNF trends head-on with Net Health’s Optima Optima Facilities and Senior Living.

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1 McKnight’s Senior Living, “Most Nursing Homes Losing Money: AHCA Survey”, August 14, 2020.

2 FREOPP, “Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities Account for 38% of COVID-19 Deaths”, May 7, 2020.

3 CDC, “Long-term Effects of COVID-19”, November 13, 2020.

4 NCBI, “Shortages of Staff in Nursing Homes During the COVID-19 Pandemic: What are the Driving Factors?”, August 11, 2020.

5 Skilled Nursing News, “Regulatory Reform, Quality of Life: The Top Nursing Home Trends of 2021”, January 4, 2021.

6 Modern Healthcare, “U.S. medical supply chains failed, and COVID deaths followed”, October 6, 2020.

7 AARP, “2018 Home and Community Preferences: A National Survey of Adults Ages 18-Plus”, July 2019.

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