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January 1996

Americans Less Likely to Use Nursing Home Care Today

Dramatic changes in the nursing home industry have taken place over the past decade, according to findings from the latest survey of nursing homes in America released today by HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala.

There are fewer, larger nursing homes offering long-term care today than 10 years ago, and, despite the growth in the number of older Americans who make up the largest proportion of nursing home residents, there has been only a slight increase in the number of residents and an actual decline in the occupancy rates. The 1995 survey also showed that nursing homes are more likely to be operated as part of a chain, when comparing the 1995 survey to the previous survey conducted in 1985.


"Americans who need long-term care have more choices today. Many more are able to stay in their homes and still receive the care they need," said Secretary Shalala. She attributed this shift to the phenomenal growth in home health care and the advances in medical technology which permit people to postpone institutional care and opt for less costly home-based alternatives. "Nursing homes remain a critical component of health care in this country and are essential for those who need intensive, 24-hour medical care," Secretary Shalala said. "Wherever care is provided, we must ensure that it is appropriate and high quality," she added.


Since 1985, the number of nursing homes decreased by 13 percent while the number of beds increased by 9 percent. The number of nursing home residents was up only four percent between 1985 and 1995, despite an 18 percent increase in the population 65 and over. Prior to the 1995 survey, utilization rates had kept pace with the increase in the elderly population.


About 1.5 million residents were receiving care in 16,700 nursing homes in 1995. Nearly 1.8 million beds were available for use and these facilities operated at about 87 percent of their capacity. Almost 90 percent of the residents in the 1995 survey were 65 years and over. More than 35 percent were 85 years and over. Residents were also predominantly white (88 percent) and female (72 percent).

Most nursing homes (66 percent) are operated for profit and over half are operated as part of a chain. Chain-affiliated homes increased from 41 to 55 percent between 1985 and 1995. While there was a 23 percent drop in the number of proprietary homes over the past decade, the total number of beds in proprietary homes increased by almost 3 percent, resulting in fewer, but larger, homes.

Overall some 1.3 million full-time equivalent employees (FTE's) were working in nursing homes. The largest single category--almost 1 million FTE's--provide nursing services.

The 1995 National Nursing Home Survey is the fourth survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since the early 1970's to track and profile the use of nursing homes.

The report, "An Overview of Nursing Homes and their Current Residents: Data from the 1995 National Nursing Home Survey," is available from the National Center for Health Statistics, 6526 Belcrest Road, Hyattsville, Md., 20782 and can be downloaded from the NCHS Home Page on the Internet at

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