Parkinson: COVID-19 May Be An ‘Endemic Problem’ For Nursing Homes Moving Forward

October 11, 2021, Alex Zorn, Skilled Nursing News - With the emergence of the delta variant and facility occupancy recovery slowed, it remains clear that the nursing home industry’s fight against COVID-19 is not over yet, American Health Care Association (AHCA) President and CEO Mark Parkinson said during opening remarks on Monday at the organization’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

In fact, Parkinson was unsure when the pandemic would ever truly be over for the sector.

He felt that while the worst of it may be behind operators, COVID-19 will likely be an ongoing issue for the industry moving forward. 

“There are so many things that have been discouraging about the delta variant,” Parkinson told the crowd.  “One is just the reality that we’re still in this fight.  This battle isn’t over yet.”

He said that occupancy recovery has been slowed for the last two months after steady recovery was seen for much of the last year.

“It may be that it will never be over and COVID will be an endemic problem that we’ll always have to fix,” Parkinson said.  “So we’re now at the same crossroads that we were in March, 2020.” 

He asked the crowd if it was time to give up or fight.

“The obvious answer is that we fight,” Parkinson said.  “The delta variant is not going to crush our recovery.  It is simply going to pause it.”

NIC MAP® Data, released by NIC MAP Vision shows that skilled nursing occupancy increased for the sixth consecutive month as of July, and is up to 75% compared to the pandemic low of 71.4% in January.  The delta variant and staffing challenges were suggested as possible challenges to occupancy recovery.

Parkinson said one lesson he’s learned since March 2020 is that COVID affects good, bad and exceptional operators alike.

He hopes the federal government will be focused on assisting nursing homes rather than penalizing them moving forward.

Parkinson referenced the nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., the site of the first nursing home COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., as an example that “no matter what you’ve done to prepare and fight, we were going to get blamed.”

“It was a five-star building with no history of infection control problems … and was a building that any of us would have been proud to have been associated with,” Parkinson said.

Yet rather than sending a team of workers to help, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) sent in large survey teams that spent 400 hours on surveys, collected thousands of pages of documents and issued over $600,000 in civil monetary penalties, Parkinson explained.

“That is when I knew we were in real trouble,” he said.

The facility, operated by Life Care Centers of America, serves as a clear reminder to the rest of the industry of the need for operators to stay unified during this difficult time, Parkinson added.