Even as hospital and ambulatory sector hiring rebounded in June, federal data show nursing homes continued to shed jobs last month.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced healthcare providers to suspend non-emergency procedures, which in turn led to temporary or permanent layoffs that peaked in April. But since then, physicians' offices, dental clinics and even hospitals have welcomed back some of those workers as they usher back patients. That's not the case for nursing homes, which preliminary data show lost an estimated 18,300 jobs last month and, combined with residential care facilities, shed almost 200,000 jobs over the past four months.
"It's hard to tell when or if families will feel comfortable placing their elders in nursing home facilities," said Christopher Whaley, a policy researcher with RAND Corp.
The healthcare industry overall added an estimated 358,000 jobs in June, about 13% more than in May, preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show. Several healthcare economists commented the bounce back is coming sooner than they expected.
June's report means that healthcare has regained 43% of the jobs it lost in March and April, said Ani Turner, Altarum's co-director of sustainable health spending strategies.
"Two months later, to be over 40% of the way back was faster than I think we had anticipated," she said.
The overall economy added 4.8 million jobs last month, and the unemployment rate declined for the second month in a row in June, falling to 11.1% from 13.3% in May. That's after hitting 14.7% in April, the highest rate since the Great Depression.
The coronavirus spread quickly through nursing homes because residents are older, require frequent care and typically have multiple chronic conditions that increase their likelihood of severe cases of COVID-19. A New York Times analysis in May estimated that 37% of COVID-19 deaths had occurred in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Unlike hospitals and other types of providers, nursing homes haven't been able to generate incremental revenue during the pandemic, even as they pay more to keep patients safe. Updated BLS data show nursing homes lost 31,900 jobs in May, almost double the agency's original projection.
A Moody's Investors Service report from May said that the pandemic was hurting the nursing home and senior living sectors more than any other sector of U.S. public finance. Since March, at least nine elder housing borrowers have drawn from their debt service reserve funds, violated their bond covenants or requested a discussion with bondholders to renegotiate the terms of their debt, according to Moody's.
"No other sector has seen the singular confluence of both revenue and expenditure difficulties as the elder housing sector," the report said.
Community care facilities for the elderly lost an estimated 1,400 jobs, a major improvement from May, when they lost almost 12,000 jobs.
Hospitals, meanwhile, continued their recovery, having made 6,700 new hires in June after two months of steep losses. While far below normal, that marked a big improvement from May, when they shed 34,500 jobs.
The ambulatory sector added 371,400 jobs last month, about 7% less than the 401,400 jobs the sector added in May, a figure the BLS had revised from its initial estimate.
Within the ambulatory sector, dentists' offices comprised more than half of the new hires, having added an estimated 190,400 jobs as they continue to re-open after the COVID-19 shutdowns. Physicians' offices added 80,000 jobs. Home health care added 17,800 jobs.
Of those who were unemployed in June, 60% were on temporary layoff, down from 73% in May and 78% in April.