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Self-payers are crucial to COVID occupancy recovery

By CHM freelance writer Eleanore Robinson
Green shoots of improved occupancy are emerging in the sector, with some providers putting strategies in place to return to pre-COVID levels.

LaingBuisson forecasts that it will take until 2023 for occupancy rates to recover from COVID. In total, it estimates that the care home population dropped by more than 30,000 people between March and September 2020 – which is before many homes were hit by the second COVID-19 wave, decreasing occupancy rates further.

Among those affected is Valorum Care, which saw people sadly pass away as well as move out, explains chief executive Rhian Stone.

However, occupancy is steadily on the up following a campaign, including a series of open days throughout the summer and virtual tours of its homes on social media.

Stone said: “We are trying to show that life goes on and care homes are not frightening places. In the past couple of months, we have noticed a significant difference. It is about building confidence back in the sector. It is about opening up.”

Also affected by COVID is The Orders of St John Care Trust (OSJCT), which suffered a seven per cent drop in occupancy. During COVID, its homes, on average, have been 80 per cent full, following prolonged periods of lockdown, COVID-19 infection and a reduction in admissions, according to its annual report.

At care provider Greensleeves, occupancy levels fell to 76.5 per cent at the beginning of the year as the impact of the second wave of the pandemic was felt.

However, rates bounced back to 87.3 per cent towards the end of July and a return to normal levels of around 93 per cent is expected by March 2022, according to the company.

In its latest set of accounts, the company reports that it has taken on more state-funded residents, exceeding its target of 25 per cent. This is partly due to some privately-funded residents falling below the eligibility threshold.

Recovery-critical
Self-paying residents, many of whom have been deterred from choosing residential care due to the pandemic, will be crucial to the recovery of many care businesses.

ONS data released this month found that only around two in five people in care homes for older people in England were self-funding between 2019 and 2020. 

OSJCT has embarked on its own “reassurance campaign” to achieve its goal of a 50:50 split between local authority and self-funding residents. The latter accounted for 40 per cent of its residents at the end of March.

This strategy forms part of a “Recovery to Good Health” agenda which will include matching “resource to occupancy and complexity”, according to the not-for-profit provider.

Valorum Care has also been talking to social workers and commissioners to attract new placements, but this has proved difficult as many are still working from home.

Valorum CEO Stone added that the management was also working to improve home managers’ confidence to take on new residents, while ensuring people are accommodated in the right home.

However, insufficient staffing is holding back its ability to take in as many new residents as it would like and it is recruiting. Stone believes for this reason recovery may be hampered. She said. “It is a very difficult operating environment.”

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