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Post-Acute and Healthcare News and Topics

Friday Feature: SNFs Still Make Sense

For some recent years, enhanced by the pandemic, the role of SNFs in the post-acute/senior living industry has tarnished. Residents and families often view the SNF as a “negative place” to reside, even if for short-term recuperation. Clinical staff take a dim view of the care complexity such that the SNF is a downgraded clinical setting, less than a hospital or outpatient setting. Providers, struggling with reimbursement inadequacy and advancing regulation, have reduced beds or closed locations. Some organizations like CCRCs, have minimized bed capacity or completely eliminated the SNF and moved to advanced Assisted Living care as the highest available care option for residents. Yet, in spite of these trends and the tarnish, SNFs have a place in the continuum and in some regards, and advancing place.

What challenges the SNF industry and thus, its reputation, are more external forces than flaws in the core purpose of an SNF. External forces such as onerous and increasing regulation, below cost reimbursement, and labor shortages are the most common forces providers deal with. Gone are the days where nursing homes were locations of long-term stays, typified by years of residency. Where and when this still occurs is for residents with early-age disabilities, or for residents that have minimal financial means such that Medicaid nursing home benefits are the primary level of support for care. With Medicaid supports via waiver programs expanding, long-term skilled nursing care includes primarily the most complicated residents, those with multiple conditions requiring skilled nursing interventions weekly or even, daily. Examples include ventilator care, dialysis, tube feedings, ostomy care, etc. While these services can be provided in the home or a non-SNF setting, location challenges often make an inpatient environment (SNF), the best place for consistent care when required.

The demographics forward, favor a post-acute, SNF setting. Despite the push for post-acute care to migrate to home settings with home health the reality remains, this is not the answer for every patient. The older the patient, the number of comorbidities involved, the nature of the comorbidities, the presence of an aging spouse with health challenges, etc. all are a predicate to whether or not, home care via home health is viable. Today, even access to home health can be challenging if not, impossible. The staffing challenges all health care providers face are particularly daunting for home health agencies where, acceptance of cases, especially complex cases, comes down to having available staff to meet patient needs. As home health care by its nature is inefficient, facility-based care can be more feasible when complexity of the case is at issue and the availability of staff is challenged. In other words, staffing one location that can accommodate say 60 residents, is easier than staffing a caseload of 60 separated by travel with distances expressed in miles.

The SNF industry and the facilities within tend to be some of the oldest classes of assets in the senior living industry. The cost of new construction is high and without access to a very high-quality payer mix, the returns are challenging. For providers than can maintain solid occupancy and high-quality payer mixes (Medicare, insurance, private pay), the returns are solid and the access to capital is there. Medicare Advantage plans are starting to create solid value-based care propositions for good providers with exceptional quality records AND great care coordination partners. For example, an SNF that has a relationship with a Home Health Agency, either owned or in partnership, has the ability to package price disease management approaches by common clinical conditions that include SNF care and HHA care, all bundled, and care coordinated. If the pricing is mapped with overall savings, reductions in re-hospitalizations, improved patient outcomes and satisfaction, the opportunities going forward are significant. I have a number of pathways/algorithms that fit this example.  A few can be downloaded here.

What headwinds lie ahead fall mostly around staffing, regulation, and reimbursement.  Oddly enough, the failures that will inevitably occur necessitating closures and bed reductions, will make good SNFs stronger going forward.  The demand by demographics and patient needs is only increasing.  There will be a significant role for SNFs to play in meeting the market needs.  The questions that beg are around reimbursement keeping up with increasing costs and how disconnected will new staffing regulations be to the reality of the labor markets. As I have said in other posts, mandates make no sense when in all reality, the mandate cannot be met now, or anytime in the near future.

Bottom-line: Banks are still willing to lend to good providers. REIT capital is available as is private equity for facility improvements and modifications.  Demand is decent and recovering.  There is a lot of pent-up demand as well, post-COVID. Valuations have remained stable for SNFs as well.  Plenty of partners exist, more so than other senior living segments (hospitals, Med Advantage plans, health systems, Home Health Agencies, etc.).  

Litigation risk is still an issue but a recent court case in Washington involving Life Care Centers of America concerning COVID and the liability for infections obtained in an SNF was found favorably for Life Care Centers.  One case, however, is not a trend but it is a good sign that perhaps, the SNF industry will not be overwhelmed by COVID litigation pertaining to outbreaks and occurrences in facilities.  A synopsis of the case is available here: https://www.mcknights.com/news/life-care-centers-vindicated-in-early-covid-wrongful-death-case/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NWLTR_MLT_DAILYUPDATE_052323&hmEmail=IjP1GPaY%2BJ2uvsLxTJ79bVeRWY7ycbnr&sha256email=aa4cb7c695037c31a216b9562788596b6fcd012145d566f31440b6fcd139c8a9&elqTrackId=2c80aade4c3647c8ab5b85f72fb85138&elq=8a824ff9b15249a9bf296d2d2c1be9e8&elqaid=4134&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=2746

Well-run, well-capitalized SNFs with more modern physical plants have a solid opportunity in the evolving post-acute industry.  Challenges exist but opportunities do as well and, in my opinion, the opportunities outweigh the challenges for operators that understand value-based care models, are willing to develop partnerships, can maintain staff, and have great quality and service records.

 

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May 26, 2023 - Posted by | Health Policy and Economics, Skilled Nursing, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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