About fifteen years ago, it looked as if the demand for rooms in nursing homes would reach a zenith. The seventy-five million baby boomers were entering their elderly years and would surely be flocking to fill those beds.
But the boomers—especially those with extra cash—ended up finding other solutions, such as using home care or living semi-independent lives in assisted care facilities. So, instead of a boom, there has been a slump, with occupancy in nursing homes now standing at 82 percent—a five-year low, according to statistics from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, an industry analytics firm.
In some cases, vacancy rates at high-quality nursing homes can be lower than those at low-quality facilities. According to an article in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, the factors that can lead to higher vacancy include financial concerns, hospital discharge patterns, the size of the facility, and its location. Home- and community-based services, which have been on the rise for the past decade, have replaced the nursing home model for many seniors. State programs have also placed many Medicaid residents into community settings, which are less expensive for the payer.
Like all nursing home systems, Wingate Healthcare—which manages nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the Northeast United States—has had to deal with this reality. It has achieved its success largely through diversification of services and locations. The company, which began in Massachusetts, has now expanded to both New York and Rhode Island, as well. The geographic diversity is important because it gives Wingate access to different patient populations with varying financial means, and financial health in one state can help make up for a downturn in another. It’s also crucial because nursing homes, by and large, depend on state rather than federal reimbursement.
By nature, running a nursing home system has an array of challenges, and these challenges are compounded by the current climate: decreased government reimbursement, a public reputation that has taken a hit from a handful of unscrupulous operators, and increased regulatory action. The Northeast also has a shortage of nurses, so staying fully staffed is difficult as well.
Nationwide, there has been increased regulatory scrutiny of nursing homes on both the federal and state level. The Office of the Inspector General has targeted many of the therapies employed at the facilities, challenging whether they are necessary. Affordability has become an issue; Medicaid only covers about 70 percent of the cost of patient care in Massachusetts. To remain financially viable, facilities need to have a mix of private-pay and insurance-reimbursed residents, and provide rehabilitation and other services. Still, Wingate continues to expand.
According to a recent Wingate Care blog post, the Needham, Massachusetts, facility, One Wingate Way, is designed to promote an active and engaged lifestyle among residents. Along with an aquatic center, the facility design uses walls, columns, ceiling details, and pocket doors to define common living and amenity spaces with as few walls as possible. Natural light flows into the facility, while amenity spaces use full-height storefront windows. Each apartment also has several oversized windows, and residents can see the aquatic center from the fitness center through full-size windows.
“Living space abounds and is approachable and comfortable,” David Feldman, Wingate’s VP of real estate, says in the post.
In July 2016, Wingate at Ulster received the American Healthcare Association’s Bronze National Quality Award, the third time that year the company received a prize from the organization. The program looks at centers nationwide and recognizes those “that have demonstrated their commitment to improving quality care for seniors and individuals with disabilities,” according to a Wingate blog post.
With 120 beds, Wingate at Ulster offers short-term rehab as well as long-term care. The company describes the facility’s Ventilator Care Program as a “home-like alternative” to hospitalization. The facility has also been awarded a five-star rating by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Oftentimes, the elderly will put off looking into nursing homes until something catastrophic happens, and there isn’t enough time to look for the right match, Wingate at Norton executive director Gloria O’Brien says in a recent blog post.
“It’s important to start looking into assisted living sooner rather than later,” she says. “So many times, people make this decision in a crisis and end up moving into a community that’s not the right fit.”