Fewer Florida senior homes closed amid the pandemic, despite fears – Tampa Bay Times

There’s no dispute: Florida nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are in crisis.

Mirroring a national trend, the homes that care for older adults in the state are facing staff shortages, declining admissions and decreased revenue amid the pandemic.

Only a quarter of long-term care communities nationally are confident they can stay open through next June, according to a summer American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living survey.

As reports of nursing homes shutting their doors in other states proliferate, many have feared a wave of closures will follow in Florida.

But numbers suggest that isn’t yet happening in the Sunshine State.

Overall, fewer long-term care facilities in Florida closed in both 2020 and 2021 than in the previous five years, according to Agency for Health Care Administration data.

“Closures have been pretty steady,” said Steve Bahmer, president and chief executive officer of LeadingAge Florida, an industry group representing about 500 long-term care facilities. “The numbers are kind of a straight line, at least until you get to 2020 and 2021.”

While exacerbated by the pandemic, many of the issues plaguing the long-term care industry today were present long before.

But experts say the pandemic is nevertheless changing the senior home landscape — particularly in ways that may impact older adults needing care.

Assisted living harder hit

The vast majority of Americans — nearly 90 percent — want to age at home. But over time, an older adult may develop conditions that require them to seek help.

Long-term care facilities are one of the primary ways seniors receive these services, and they’re expected to become even more pivotal in coming decades. One in five U.S. residents will be of retirement age by 2030, according to U.S. Census projections.

Far more assisted living facilities — which are generally for people who need some assistance with daily living but don’t need the level of care a skilled nursing facility provides — closed than nursing homes during the pandemic in Florida. In 2021, 112 of these facilities shuttered, and 94 closed in 2020.

The preceding five years saw more closures, with around 150 assisted living homes shuttering annually in 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016. In 2015, 118 of these facilities closed. Four nursing homes have closed during the pandemic — two in 2021 and two in 2020 — a rate that is consistent with closure numbers in 2019. Just 10 nursing homes have shut down in the state since 2015.

Around Tampa Bay, 42 long-term care facilities have closed across Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties over the last two years, including two nursing homes.

There is no lag in data, according to the state agency that collects this information.

Less closures, unexplained

Bahmer said it’s hard to speculate why long-term care closures have lessened overall in the past two years. But federal aid dollars during the pandemic may have played a role.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every weekday morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

There are over 3,000 assisted living facilities in Florida, compared to about 700 nursing homes, which may partially account for the higher number of shutdowns in assisted living. But these facilities also faced unique challenges during the pandemic.

Assisted living facilities were excluded from the first round of relief payments from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.

“Our assisted living members are suffering through the same staffing crisis as nursing homes and hospitals, the same increased costs and decreased occupancy from the pandemic, but without some of the assistance that some of those other providers have benefited from,” Bahmer said.

These homes tend to be smaller and are more likely to be individually-owned than nursing facilities, according to Dr. Lindsay Peterson, a professor and researcher at the University of South Florida School of Aging Studies, making it harder to stay afloat when things go awry.

It was fatigue that pushed Eribes Nunez over the edge. After 12 years in business, she and her husband closed Humphrey Assisted Living, a Tampa facility, last month.

“For us, more than anything else, the reason was staffing,” said Nunez, who noted they needed about five employees on site at a time. “It was really hard to find good staff that would stay — during the whole cycle of the facility, not just the pandemic.”

Changing hands

While less long-term care facilities have closed overall since the coronavirus first hit the U.S., researchers have noticed a swell of sales in the last two years — as homes move from individual owners to corporations.

“The thing we’re concerned about is — we heard during COVID-19 that the small, independent assisted living providers were more able to give their residents more freedom within the facilities,” Peterson said.

“And if those places are being sold and corporatized, it has some effect,” she added. “I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.”

Others fear more closures may be around the corner.

“The pandemic just keeps changing shape. Eighteen assisted living closures in Hillsborough County in 2021 doesn’t seem like a lot, relative to the 260 that are still open in the county,” Bahmer said. “But if it’s your family member whose community closes, then any number is too big.”