Arguing that one-time snapshots may shed more light on the status of efforts to curb COVID-19, the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) on Friday released the first in a planned series of point-in-time data on cases across multiple settings.
Based on a limited sample of facilities, nursing care sites on average reported that 4.3% of residents had a confirmed positive test of COVID-19 as of May 31, according to NIC; that compares with 3.7% for memory care facilities, 1.2% for assisted living properties, and only 0.2% for independent living communities.
It’s important to note that the sample size was small: NIC was only able to collect data from 29 nursing facilities, with between 50 and 56 respondents for the other three property types.
The limited data also shows wide disparities in testing rates across the senior housing spectrum, with an average of 9.8% of independent living residents tested as compared with 34.2% of nursing care census.
Though the sample size remains small for now, NIC CEO Brian Jurutka hopes the collection will prompt more operators to submit data for future installments of the snapshot series — primarily in order to provide a contrast to the overall data compiled by government sources.
“That cumulative data is important for one view,” Jurutka said. “But if you want to understand how things have changed, and how they will continue to change over time, the in-place piece I think is a more relevant metric — to get some sense as to whether or not policies, procedures, increased testing, increased availability of PPE is going to continue to drive down the penetration rates within the existing communities.”
Most attempts to quantify the significant impact of COVID-19 on senior care facilities have taken the form of totals, notably the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) running tally of nursing home infections, suspected cases, and deaths.
Collected in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the CMS data has seen significant fluctuations as more operators come into compliance with a federal data-submission mandate — and as officials clean up the data to remove inconsistencies such as double-counting.
The federal government was also unable to order nursing facilities to submit data from the earliest days of the coronavirus crisis, and not all of the nation’s more than 15,000 properties have sent in information from all of the required weeks.
As a result of these discrepancies, the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes actually dropped from about 31,700 to around 29,500 between the first and second data releases, climbing back up to 30,794 as of the most recent update Thursday. Those figures compare to third-party estimates of the nursing home mortality rate that had already crested 50,000 as of mid-June.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that nursing facilities — and other senior care sites — continue to accept new residents as others pass away from the virus, recover, or voluntarily move out. CMS itself acknowledges that its official data in some cases shows facilities with more confirmed cases or deaths than licensed beds, reflecting the cumulative nature of the data.
Moving forward, Jurutka thinks that monthly updates of snapshot data will provide necessary context for operators, investors, and the general public as the coronavirus crisis drags into the summer and fall.
“If you had 12, or a dozen or so COVID-positive residents last month, some of those may have been resolved by now, or some folks may have moved out,” he said. “You may have zero, you may have one, you may have two. That’s just important incremental information to know, as opposed to just knowing that there were 12 at some point in time — what’s the current penetration amongst the residents now?”