CHS beats expectations with cost cuts despite volume slump

Dive Brief:

  • Community Health Systems beat Wall Street expectations Tuesday when it reported a small adjusted net profit during the first quarter, as its cost cutting helped offset weak admissions volume. Its net loss narrowed to $25 million, compared to a net loss of $199 million in the year earlier period.
  • Net operating revenues dropped nearly 18% to $3.69 billion, compared with $4.49 billion for the same period in 2017. The health system continues to struggle with declining admissions, reporting a 2.4% decrease for the quarter.
  • CHS sold off 30 hospitals last year and continues its divestment strategy this year.

Dive Insight:

The Brentwood, Tennessee-based hospital operator is hoping to pare down its outsized debt, much of which was acquired when the company bought the financially-distressed Florida-based system Health Management Associates for $7.6 billion in 2014.

In January, CEO Wayne Smith told investors his goal is to slim down to 100 hospitals in “significantly improved markets.” The company is attempting to make $1.3 billion off of divestitures this year, counting six pending divestitures this year in Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee.

The strategy might be paying off. With 30 fewer hospitals, the company’s inpatient and outpatient revenues for Q1 each increased 0.1% on a same-store basis, and income from operations skyrocketed 198% to $212 million, compared to $71 million in 2017.

Jefferies noted the system offset lower volumes by keeping labor and staffing costs low.

Still, it said future growth “hinge[s] largely on seeing a stabilization in organic volume trends, which has eluded the company for eight consecutive quarters.”

The analysts said new initiatives like an accountable care organization were promising, “though their benefits will likely take a few quarters to materialize.”

Last year, ASL Strategic Value Fund sent a letter to CHS’ board of directors saying “it is time” to replace the CEO. The letter, dated Aug. 8, argued that action is needed immediately as management’s “previous missteps have resulted in billions of dollars of shareholder losses.”

In a comment issued with the earnings report, Smith argued to investors that the company’s turnaround strategy is beginning to work.

“We achieved continued progress across a number of our strategic and operating initiatives,” he said. “During the first few months of the year, we expanded our transfer and access program, launched Accountable Care Organizations, and invested in both outpatient capabilities and service line enhancements across our markets. These efforts helped drive a good financial performance during the first quarter and position the Company for further anticipated improvements during the balance of 2018.”

However, CHS still has a long way to go. The company recently brought in financial advisors to help restructure $13.8 billion in long-term debt.


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