Covid Spurs Families to Shun Nursing Homes, a Shift That Appears Long Lasting

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Fearing infection and isolation, relatives are turning to home care as new services make that option more possible for many

The COVID-19 outbreak is prompting more American families to move aging relatives into their homes, fueling the growing interest in multigenerational houses.

Occupancy in nursing homes in the U.S. has fallen by 15% since the end of 2019, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal. The number of COVID-19-related deaths linked to long-term elder care institutions in the U.S., currently more than 115,000, accounts for some of the decrease. A resulting decline in admissions accounts for much of the rest.

Fearing infection and isolation in nursing homes, some Americans are bringing their loved ones into their own homes. Home buyers are showing an increasing desire to bring more family members under one roof. Buyers purchasing after the start of the pandemic in the U.S. were more likely to purchase multigenerational homes—15% versus the 11% who purchased prior to April 2020, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ newly released “2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.”

They cited multiple reasons, such as the health and caretaking of aging parents and relatives, cost savings, and the desire to spend more time with aging parents and relatives.

Meanwhile, home health care firms and hospitals are ramping up offerings to support sicker patients at home. They’re using technology to allow close monitoring. Also, regulatory changes now allow Medicare to pay for digital doctor visits and hospital-level care in patients’ homes.

“We should be able to provide more services in the home setting that can enable somebody to be independent,” Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told The Wall Street Journal. “COVID is going to force a national conversation about how we take care of our elderly.”

The pandemic may have accelerated a trend that was already occurring. Nursing home use in the country has been declining for several years. In 2019, occupancy was 80%, which is a drop from 84% a decade earlier, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“The drive to get every patient home who can be home is going to continue,” Peter Pronovost, chief clinical transformation officer at University Hospitals, told The Wall Street Journal.

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