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Tampa Bay senior living facilities have more openings

Assisted- and independent-living facilities across the country have a lower occupancy rate than before the pandemic, a new report says, although Tampa Bay’s rate is higher than the national average.
Marlys Meckler, 81, on left, meets with her husband, Milton Meckler, 87, in the living room of the Grand Villa of St. Petersburg, 3600 34th St S, an assisted-living facility that has opened its doors to visitors after not permitting visitors for the past six months on Sept. 10, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Marlys was visiting Milton, who is a resident of the facility. The couple has been married for 61 years.
Marlys Meckler, 81, on left, meets with her husband, Milton Meckler, 87, in the living room of the Grand Villa of St. Petersburg, 3600 34th St S, an assisted-living facility that has opened its doors to visitors after not permitting visitors for the past six months on Sept. 10, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Marlys was visiting Milton, who is a resident of the facility. The couple has been married for 61 years. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 23
Updated Feb. 23

Occupancy rates at Tampa Bay’s assisted- and independent-living facilities dropped in the final three quarters of 2020, a trend that continued into January, according to a report from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

The Tampa Bay market— which includes Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties— experienced an 7.1 percent drop in occupancy from the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 until the end of the year, according to the report. The year-end occupancy rate was 82.4 percent. In the latest three month average, including November, December, and January, Tampa Bay’s occupancy rate fell to 81.6 percent.

Nationwide, the occupancy rate drop was slightly smaller than Tampa Bay’s — 6.8 percent — but the national year-end rate was lower, at 80.7 percent occupancy.

“We’ve seen a big drop in occupancy rates because people simply aren’t moving in,” said Beth Burnham Mace, chief economist and director of outreach for the National Investment Center. The nonprofit serves investors interested in the senior housing and care industry, but doesn’t compile data on nursing homes.

In normal times, occupancy rates fluctuate as some residents move in and others move out and into nursing homes or hospitals or they die. Some seniors haven’t felt comfortable moving into congregate-style homes during the coronavirus pandemic, because it spreads in crowds, Mace said, and some families don’t want to move their loved ones in while visitation restrictions are in place.

Tampa Bay also had one new property, Sunflower Springs at Trinity, open in the fall with 217 new units that needed to be leased, she said, thus lowering the occupancy rate.

Mace predicts that more people will start moving into these facilities as vaccination levels increase and coronavirus infection rates drop.

“There’s a fair amount of pent-up demand to move in, because a lot of people who move into senior housing are there because it’s a need,” Mace said, “so you can only put that off for so long.”

A Country Place Assisted Living Facility, in Town N’ Country has 20 residents, down from 24 before the pandemic, said Robert Loomis, facility administrator.

“I think there was a significant amount of fear involved in moving into a shared environment during COVID,” Loomis said.

A Country Place has received fewer calls from people who want to move in since March 2020, but had the same number of people move out, Loomis said.

Loomis hopes the arrival of the vaccine will bring a return to pre-coronavirus occupancy levels.

“I’m more optimistic than I was,” he said.

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