For seniors looking into housing options and nursing homes, some of the most commonly asked questions center around quality of life. Is the staff courteous and friendly? Is it kept clean and is the food good? And of course — can you have visitors anytime?
The very nature of nursing homes is people interacting with one another. Not only do seniors enjoy doing social activities together, some nursing homes are set up as households – small groups of residents living under the same roof with the same staff sharing meals and activities.
But what was once a hallmark of senior living – be it a visit from a family member or friend – is now a risk. As coronavirus deaths began to surge in April, nursing homes across the country instituted policies barring visitors, a sudden blow for the more than one million Americans living in such places.
Our team at SeniorLiving.org decided to examine this difficult reality of not being able to visit loved ones. Industry-leading location-data company X-Mode supplied us with de-identified visit data to nursing homes across the country from a sample of tens of millions of de-identified users so we could study changes in patterns of people visiting nursing homes.
We chose the weekends of March 8th, April 12th, and June 28th to represent visitation patterns prior to the economic shutdown, in the midst of the shutdown, and as the economy has been mostly reopened with social distancing.
The data clearly shows that across the country, people were very serious about limiting their in-person contact with those in nursing homes during the very early stages of the pandemic.
How Did Nursing Home Visits Change?
The first research period, the weekend of March 8th, was before the first lockdowns began. States and cities began putting stay-home orders in place, generally starting in late March, which halted many aspects of daily life.
Most of these restrictions lasted through the end of April, though a handful extended into May. In addition to orders to stay home unless travel was necessary, nursing homes began tightly restricting visitors. For many, that meant cutting off visits entirely.
Comparing the weekends of March 8th and April 12th, our data shows a huge drop in visits to nursing homes nationally, as they fell by more than half (53 percent, to be exact). This total “traffic” to nursing homes was inclusive of staff, vendors and visitors. In every state where adequate data was available, the number of people visiting nursing homes fell between March and April.
Between the weekends of April 12th and June 28th, visits to nursing homes rebounded significantly, although the average number of visitors was still down by 34 percent. By June, states had begun phasing in a return to normal economic function, though there was a patchwork of what was open and what was closed. Our data shows people definitely took advantage of relaxed restrictions to visit nursing homes.
Nursing Home Visits by State
Every state where data was available had a double-digit decline in the number of nursing home visits between March and April. The biggest decline was in Alabama, where visits fell by nearly two-thirds, while Georgia was a close second.
Conversely, all states except California saw nursing home visits rise between April and June. California continued to see visitors decline and had the biggest drop in visits during this period. Overall, between March and June, visits to California nursing homes fell by a total of 71 percent.
As the economy reopens and more people are allowed into nursing homes (albeit with stronger protocols), this warrants continued studying, and more importantly, concerted efforts to help seniors connect in meaningful ways with their loved ones.
By Jeff Hoyt, editor-in-chief at SeniorLiving.org
Jeff Hoyt is editor-in-chief at SeniorLiving.org, a comprehensive directory of living options. SeniorLiving’s mission is to help older Americans age with ease.