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Covid conquered? What next for nursing homes

Nursing homes were in a dark place in 2020. One operator candidly told us earlier this week that they were seen as “places where you went to die”. At the time, the reputational damage and the knock to occupancy looked substantial. But now we hear – across Europe – that care homes are not just as safe as houses, they are safer. As for Covid, people, apparently, have short memories.

A combination of vaccinations and boosters appear to have made nursing homes into the bastions of safety the public expects them to be. “We’ve had no discernible rise in mortality” says one operator, while another opines the effect is “so miniscule, it’s not worth mentioning”. Occupancy remains slightly lower than they would like, but only a percentage point or three below pre-Covid levels. And where occupancy is lower than that, in the UK, it’s not Covid-related. It’s Brexit.

That we have moved from a situation where Covid seemed a potentially existential threat to (particularly smaller) operators, to one where we’re told to expect “no fire sales” and “no distressed assets”, is a considerable leap. Indeed, we hear that prices and multiples are likely to rise. As one operator put it: “demand is increasing, supply is not matching it, it’s basic economics”.

And so, while remaining vigilant and coping with the “nuisance” of some absentee staff and the additional costs of the pandemic, attention turns afresh to the more usual problems facing nursing homes, namely the paucity of staff and, depending on the jurisdiction, the low rates of remuneration from local authorities. These, not Covid, are what we hear are causing our readers sleepless nights. Welcome (back) to the old normal.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to David Farbrother or call 0207 183 3779.