As hot spots for the virus that causes COVID-19 due to the vulnerable population they serve, nursing homes in the Garden State have experienced a massive swing in revenues and expenses since confirmed cases started popping up in March.

These facilities could be spending a lot more money than usual way into the future to better protect residents from COVID-19 and other illnesses, according to survey findings released by the New Jersey Hospital Association's Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation.

For each month March through June, the report said, New Jersey nursing homes experienced a 20% decline in revenue, due largely to declines in admissions unrelated to the novel coronavirus. Short recovery stays also dipped significantly, with elective surgeries unavailable for months at the state's hospitals.

A report issued in early June by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found occupancy rates declined 22% in New Jersey nursing homes compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. That's the highest median percentage drop in the nation.

Altogether, nursing homes spent approximately $100 million more than usual every month from March through June, the CHART report found.

"The significant increase in expenses was due to procuring personal protective equipment, enhancing staffing, improving telehealth technology and virtual visiting platforms," said Theresa Edelstein, senior vice president of Partnerships Transforming Health at the Hospital Association. "There were also many physical plant modifications made in facilities to enhance infection prevention strategies and keep people safe."

Nursing homes project a 12% increase in expenses for July through December, the report noted. If that holds true, nursing homes would see a $750 million increase in expenses for calendar year 2020.

"A lot of the steps that have been taken are going to be made permanent. They're good enhancements ... for infection prevention," Edelstein said. "We don't only have COVID to deal with, but we also will have another flu season upon us."

Measures expected to be made "permanent," Edelstein said, include enhanced PPE inventory and separation of certain units, along with dedicated spaces for visiting "if and when we get to indoor visiting again."

Outdoor visits at New Jersey nursing homes were allowed to begin on Father's Day. Social distancing guidelines still need to be followed, and everyone involved in the visit must wear a face covering.

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