Colorado nursing homes face new pandemic challenge: staying open

A decrease in the number of residents living inside, combined with increased costs, has led many facilities to financial trouble.

DENVER — The number of new cases of COVID-19 in long term care facilities has decreased since the beginning of the pandemic. Now nursing homes are facing another challenge: staying open.

Many facilities have had to invest more money into securing personal protective equipment to keep employees and residents safe. They’ve also had to pay employees overtime and bonuses for working through the pandemic. On top of that, the number of residents living inside these facilities has dropped sharply.

Doug Farmer is the president of the Colorado Health Care Association, representing senior care centers across the state. He estimates the number of residents living inside nursing homes has decreased between 15% and 40% in some places.

“When they start to see a decrease in the number of people that they care for, and therefore their revenue, they have to make some very difficult choices about how or if they can proceed to exist,” said Farmer. “I think people are waiting to make sure that things have leveled out, to see if there’s a vaccine, or other things that can be done to ensure the safety of their loved ones.”

Up north, at the Estes Park Health Living Center, there are 52 licensed beds. Right now, less than half are occupied. The facility expects to lose $1.4 million this year, about $56,000 for each of the empty beds, according to documents on the facility’s website. 

The financial strain brought on by the pandemic has forced the owners to propose closing the entire facility. 

9NEWS reached out to the facility requesting an interview but did not hear back. 

The Estes Park Living Center is still looking for alternative options that would allow them to avoid closing. If it does close, residents would be forced to move elsewhere, likely outside of the small town of Estes Park.

About 55% of all nursing homes around the country report operating at a loss this year according to a survey by the American Health Care Association.

“If you take a more rural community in Colorado and you remove the only nursing home in that community, they’re going to have to drive 75 miles to find the next care,” said Farmer. “Longer term, if we don’t start to see things turn around with the number of people in long-term care facilities, that will be the financial struggle they will have to reckon with.”

Even with the pandemic still taking lives, nursing homes now struggle to keep their doors open.

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