7 health systems with strong finances

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/7-health-systems-with-strong-finances-01072020.html

Here are seven health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

1. Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Health System has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The three-hospital system benefits from its role as the academic medical center of Duke University’s School of Medicine and is a nationally recognized and leading provider of tertiary and quaternary services, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects the health system to maintain operating cash flow margins in the double-digit range.

2. Edison, N.J.-based Hackensack Meridian Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P and Fitch. The health system has a solid financial profile and a strong presence in a large and demographically favorable market, according to Fitch. S&P expects the health system’s depth of clinical services and operations to contribute to its stable financial performance.

3. Fountain Valley, Calif.-based MemorialCare has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and S&P. The health system has a strong balance sheet and financial profile, according to Fitch. The credit rating agency expects MemorialCare’s cash flow to improve due to its market strategy, which focuses on revenue diversification.

4. Portland-based Oregon Health & Science University has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s and an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with S&P. OHSU, which is the only academic medical center in Oregon, has favorable operating performance, strong philanthropy and its clinical offerings draw patients from across Oregon and neighboring states, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects OHSU’s revenue to continue to grow.

5. Boston-based Partners HealthCare, which is changing its name to Mass General Brigham, has an “Aa3” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has an excellent reputation in clinical care and research, a seasoned management team, large size and diversity of revenue sources across several locations and lines of business, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects Partners to achieve an operating surplus in fiscal 2020.

6. Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Healthcare has an “Aa2” rating and stable outlook with Moody’s. The health system has a leading market position in its core service area, strong patient demand, and solid margins, according to Moody’s. The credit rating agency expects Sentara’s liquidity and debt metrics to remain at recent levels.

7. Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health has an “AA-” rating and stable outlook with Fitch and S&P. The health system has a significant market presence in several states and a strong financial profile, according to Fitch. The credit rating agency expects the health system’s operating margins to continue to improve.

 

NEW COVENANT HEALTH CFO AIMS TO LEAD ORGANIZATION’S FINANCIAL TURNAROUND

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/new-covenant-health-cfo-aims-lead-organizations-financial-turnaround

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The Tewksbury, Massachusetts–based health system strives to post its first positive balance sheet in more than five years.

Stephen Forney, MBA, CPA, FACHE, excels in fixing “broken” organizations and he has built a track record of achieving financial turnarounds at seven healthcare facilities, he tells HealthLeaders in a recent interview.

Forney has over three decades of experience as a healthcare executive, with a primary focus on problem-solving. He began his career fixing problems in areas such as information technology and supply chain, an approach and skill he has carried over into financial operations in the C-suite.

“In finance, it wound up being the same thing. Pretty much every organization I’ve gone to has been broken in some way, shape, or form,” Forney says. “I’ve developed a specialty doing turnarounds and this will be my eighth.”

Forney speaks about his new CFO role at the Tewksbury, Massachusetts–based Catholic nonprofit health system Covenant Health, which he joined in mid-September, and how driving revenue and reducing expenses must go hand-in-hand to achieve financial balance.

This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

HealthLeaders: Covenant is coming off its fifth straight year of operating losses. What is contributing to those losses and how do you plan to address those financial challenges?

Forney: The thing is, most turnarounds—to a greater or lesser extent—look a lot alike. With organizations that have [financial] issues, there are obviously always unique aspects to every situation, but virtually every healthcare organization that’s not doing well is because of the same relatively small handful of issues.

[For example,] revenue cycle is probably No. 1. Productivity has not been well attended to; expenses haven’t had a lot of discipline around them in a broad sense. That’s not to say that all decisions are bad, but in a systematic fashion, things haven’t been looked at. Frequently, driving volume and growing the business needs a better focus. 

In the case of Covenant … there has been a plan developed to address all those areas and we are addressing them already, even though we will be posting another operating loss in fiscal [year] 2019. But the trajectory is good and some of the things that we’re now looking at are what I would consider to be phase two–type initiatives. How do we accelerate and move them to the next level?

On October 1, we outsourced our revenue cycle. I’m pleased that we were able to get that accomplished. Obviously, it’s early but, at least anecdotally, initial trends look good.

HL: Where do you fall on the dynamic between focusing on expense control measures or revenue generation?

Forney: I always feel like you need to do both. Expense management and working towards expense strategies is easier, quicker, and more straightforward.

[Revenue growth strategies] take time, take effort, and tend to [have] a much higher degree of uncertainty around the volume projection. Those are necessary and they’re things that we need to invest in because, at some point, you can’t cut any more from your organization, you’ve got to grow the top line. To me, it’s sort of like step one is stabilize your revenue cycle and stabilize your expenses. Then while you’re doing that, work on growth that’s going to take place 12 to 18 months down the road.

HL: Are you optimistic about the federal government’s efforts to move the industry toward value-based care?

Forney: Going back about a decade, I thought the ACE program, which was [the federal government’s] bundled payment program, was a solid step in the right direction. It gave organizations a chance to collaborate in compliant fashion with physicians to bend the cost curve and have beneficiaries participate in the bending of the cost curve as well. I was with one of the pilot health systems that [participated], and it was a remarkable success.

Everybody got to win; CMS, patients, physicians, and systems won by creating value. Yes, I think that the government has a good role to play in [value-based care] because they have such a large group of patients that they’re willing to experiment like that. [The federal government] can come up with potentially novel ways to get people to buy into this.

HL: What is it like to be at the helm of a Catholic nonprofit system and how does it affect your leadership style?

Forney: From a philosophical standpoint, the principle of creating shareholder wealth and good stewardship are not significantly different. You’ve got an end goal in mind, which is, you’re taking care of the patients and a community. In one case, whatever excess is left goes to a private equity fund or shareholders. In the other case, [the excess] stays in your balance sheet and gets reinvested in the community.

HL: Given your three decades of healthcare experience, do you have advice for your fellow provider CFOs, especially some of the younger ones?

Forney: Focus on being that strategic right-hand person to the CEO. In my experience, that has been one of the things that marks a successful CFO from one that isn’t as successful.

CEOs are going to get ideas from everywhere. They’re outward and inward facing. They deal with the doctors and the community, and they’re going to get all sorts of great ideas.

The CFO needs to be that person [who is] grounded and says, ‘Well, what about this?’ That doesn’t mean saying no. The whole idea is how do you make it [sound] like a yes. To me, the CFO role just grounds all the discussions, from working with physicians to working with the community. 

CFOs over the last couple of decades have been operationally oriented. Now they need to start becoming clinically oriented.

There’s a real benefit in being able to sit down and talk with a physician and understand [what] they’re doing. … It winds up becoming a way to help ground the clinicians in the hospital operations because now you’re having a dialogue with them instead of them just saying, ‘You don’t understand. You’re not a clinician.’ That would be something that I would have a young CFO try to stay focused on, even though it’s dramatically outside the comfort zone for people that typically go into accounting.

 

Lehigh Valley Health Network’s net income more than triples to $115M

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/lehigh-valley-health-network-s-net-income-more-than-triples-to-115m.html

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Allentown, Pa.-based Lehigh Valley Health Network saw its net income more than triple from $35.1 million in fiscal year 2018 to $115.3 million in fiscal year 2019, according to financial documents released Dec. 4. 

The health system saw its revenue increase year over year to $2.96 billion in the 12 months ended June 30. In the same period in 2018, the system reported revenue of $2.73 billion.

In fiscal year 2019, Lehigh Valley Health reported expenses of $2.86 billion, up from $2.68 billion in 2018.

Expense growth resulted from several factors, including an increase in salaries and wages and supply costs.

Lehigh Valley Health System attributed the net income increase to cutting back on contract workers and overtime and reducing costs on readmissions and contracts, according to The Morning Call. 

 

UnitedHealth projects major revenue boost in 2020 on the back of continued Optum growth

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/unitedhealth-projects-242b-2019-revenue-offers-2020-guidance-262b-revenue?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkdObE5HRTJNMlptT0RkayIsInQiOiJiaFk3K2s2TDl5OGNrMmJ5XC9EWWEyb3VacEVjUGpOUVhrdE5wQmxkaTN6TUNTbkVJaUJlTnl3eldXcmRaVU1nN3k4UUhKRFEzb1B3XC9pYWNJaHVcL0NqS29QSmI4RFR1aWEwWlNNRUE2QmdqaVJINkNIa090XC9lUzMxUUpUbG1yY24ifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

The outside of Optum's headquarters

UnitedHealth Group projected it will generate $242 billion in revenue in 2019 and expects to report another 7% to 8% increase in top-line growth in 2020.

The insurance group presented updated figures during its investor conference that kicked off Tuesday with officials saying they expect to increase the company’s 2020 revenue to between $260 billion and $262 billion.

They project between $21 billion and $22 billion in operating earnings in 2020.

In comparison, UnitedHealth Group generated $17.3 billion in profits on $226 billion in revenue in 2018. The company is projecting to report $19 billion in profits in 2019.

The biggest driver of growth this year has been UnitedHealth’s Optum, the company’s pharmacy benefit management and care services group. Optum revenue is projected to have increased by 11% from 2018 to 2019, earning UnitedHealth $112 billion in revenue compared to $101 billion in 2018.Optum is expected to continue to be a major growth driver for the company in its 2020 earnings projection, with UnitedHealth pegging growth to increase again between 13% and 14%. UnitedHealth executives said that Optum is expected to make up 50.5% of the company’s total after tax operating earnings this year.. 

Optum could also be the key for UnitedHealth to improve its Medicare Advantage business.

“We don’t like being third, that’s fundamentally where we landed for the year,” said UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann, “Over time I think we will continue to grow and outpace the market.”

Executives said that the key to growth is to keep its networks consistent as well as pharmacists and pharmacies consistent for seniors. 

“We believe we maintain in the Medicare market a strategic cost advantage because of the capacities we have as an organization,” Wichmann said.

UnitedHealth pointed to the success of OptumCare, the company’s primary and specialty care provider.  The highest performing Medicare Advantage plans were in markets that had an OptumCare presence. Wichmann said that growing the OptumCare platform is a majority priority for UnitedHealth over the next seven years.

 

 

 

 

Trinity Health sees net income plunge 60% as operating margin improves

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/trinity-health-sees-net-income-plunge-60-as-operating-margin-improves.html

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Trinity Health recorded higher revenue and operating income in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020 than in the same period a year earlier, but the Livonia, Mich.-based system ended the quarter with lower net income, according to unaudited financial documents.

During the first quarter of fiscal 2020, which ended Sept. 30, Trinity reported operating revenue of $4.8 billion, a 1.8 percent increase over the same period of the year prior. Operating expenses climbed 1.7 percent year over year to $4.7 billion.

Trinity ended the first quarter of fiscal 2020 with operating income of $94 million, up from $87 million in the first quarter of last year.

The system reported an operating margin of 2 percent in the first quarter of fiscal 2020, compared to an operating margin of 1.8 percent in the same period of the year prior. Margin growth was partially attributable to Trinity’s divestiture of Camden, N.J.-based Lourdes Health System in June. Growth in patient volumes and payment rates also supported margin growth.

After factoring in nonoperating items, including a decline in investment returns, Trinity reported net income of $166.4 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2020. That’s compared to the first quarter of fiscal 2019, when the system posted net income of $419.9 million.

 

 

WHY HOSPITALS ARE GETTING INTO THE HOUSING BUSINESS

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/clinical-care/why-hospitals-are-getting-housing-business

Hospitals cannot discharge patients if they have no safe place to go, so patients who are homeless, frail, living alone, or experiencing an unstable housing situation, can occupy hospital beds long after their acute medical problem is resolved.

One patient at Denver Health, the city’s largest safety net hospital, occupied a bed for more than four years—a hospital record of 1,558 days.

Another admitted for a hard-to-treat bacterial infection needed eight weeks of at-home IV antibiotics, but had no home.

A third, with dementia, came to the hospital after being released from the Denver County Jail. His family refused to take him back.

In the first half of this year alone, the hospital treated more than 100 long-term patients. All had a medical issue that led to their initial hospitalization. But none of the patients had a medical reason for remaining in the hospital for most of their stay.

Legally and morally, hospitals cannot discharge patients if they have no safe place to go. So patients who are homeless, frail or live alone, or have unstable housing, can occupy hospital beds for weeks or months—long after their acute medical problem is resolved. For hospitals, it means losing money because a patient lingering in a bed without medical problems doesn’t generate much, if any, income. Meanwhile, acutely ill patients may wait days in the ER to be moved to a floor because a hospital’s beds are full.

“Those people are, for lack of a better term, stranded in our hospital,” said Dr. Sarah Stella, a Denver Health physician.

To address the problem, hospitals from Baltimore to St. Louis to Sacramento, Calif., are exploring ways to help patients find a home. With recent federal policy changes that encourage hospitals to allocate charity dollars for housing, many hospitals realize it’s cheaper to provide a month of housing than to keep patients for a single night.

Hospital executives find the calculus works even if they have to build affordable housing units themselves. It’s why Denver Health is partnering with the Denver Housing Authority to repurpose a mothballed building on the hospital campus into affordable senior housing, including about 15 apartments designated to help homeless patients transition out of the hospital.

“This is an experiment of sorts,” said Peg Burnette, the hospital’s chief financial officer. “We might be able to help better their lives, as well as help the financials of the hospital and help free up capacity for the patients that need to come to see us for acute care.”

SPENDING TO SAVE MONEY

Denver Health once used the shuttered 10-story building for office space but opted to sell it to the housing authority and grant a 99-year lease on the land for a minimal fee.

“It really lowers the construction costs for us,” said Ismael Guerrero, Denver Housing Authority’s executive director. “It was a great opportunity to build additional housing in a location that’s obviously close to the hospital, close to public transit, near the city center.”

Once the renovation is complete in late 2021, the housing group will hire a coordinator to assist tenants with housing-related issues, including helping those in the transitional units find permanent housing. The hospital will provide a case manager to help with their physical and behavioral health needs, preparing them for life on their own. Denver Health expects most patients will be able to move on from the transitional units within 90 days.

The hospital will pay for the housing portion itself. That will still be far cheaper than what the hospital currently spends.

It costs Denver Health $2,700 a night to keep someone in the hospital. Patients who are prime candidates for the transitional units stay on average 73 days, for a total cost to the hospital of nearly $200,000. The hospital estimates it would cost a fraction of that, about $10,000, to house a patient for a year instead.

“The hospital really is like the most expensive form of housing,” Stella said.

GROWING INTEREST

recent report from the Urban Institute found that while most hospital officials are well aware of how poor housing affects a patient’s recovery, they were stymied about how to address the issue.

“It’s on the radar of almost all hospitals,” said Kathryn Reynolds, who co-authored the report. “But it seemed like actually making investments in housing, providing some type of financing or an investment in land or something that has a good amount of value seems to be less widespread.”

The report found housing investment has been more likely among hospitals with their own health plans or other types of arrangements in which they were receiving a fixed amount of money to care for a group of patients. Getting patients into housing could lower their costs and increase their operating margins. Others, particularly religiously affiliated and children’s hospitals, sought housing solutions as part of their charitable mission.

Reynolds said the trend is due in part to the Affordable Care Act, which requires hospitals to perform a community needs assessment to help guide their charitable efforts. That prompted more hospitals to consider the social needs of their patients and pushed housing concerns up the list. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service clarified in 2015 that hospitals could claim housing investments as charitable spending required under their tax-free status. And provisions included in the 2017 tax cut bill provided significant tax savings for investors in newly designated opportunity zones, increasing their interest in affordable housing projects.

Some hospitals, she said, may use their cash reserves to invest in housing projects that generate a lower return than other investment options because it furthers their mission, not just their profits.

In other cases, hospital systems play a facilitator role—using their access to cheap credit or serving as an anchor tenant in a larger development—to help get a project off the ground.

“Housing is not their business,” Guerrero said. “It’s not an easy space to get into if you don’t have the experience, if you don’t have a real estate development team in-house to understand how to put these deals together.”

CUTTING COSTS

In the southwestern corner of Colorado, Centura Health’s Mercy Regional Medical Center has partnered with Housing Solutions for the Southwest to prioritize housing vouchers for frequent users of the emergency room.

Under a program funded by the Catholic Health Initiatives, Mercy hired a social worker and a case manager to review records of frequent emergency room patients. They quickly realized how big an issue housing was for those patients. Many had diabetes and depended on insulin—which needs refrigeration. Kidney failure was one of the most costly diagnoses for the hospital.

Once patients received housing vouchers and found stable housing, though, costs began to drop.

“We now knew where they were. We knew that they had a safe place to live,” said Elsa Inman, program coordinator at Mercy Regional. “We knew they would be more effective in managing their chronic conditions.”

The patients with stable housing were more likely to make it to their primary care and specialist appointments, more likely to stay on top of medications and keep their chronic conditions in check.

The combination of intensive case management and patient engagement helped to halve ER visits for the first 146 patients in the program, saving nearly $495,000 in Medicaid spending in less than three years.

“Hospitals are businesses and nonprofits are businesses,” said Brigid Korce, program development director for Housing Solutions. “They are bottom-line, dollars-and-cents people.”

Inman acknowledged that the hospital might have missed out on some revenue by reducing ER use by these patients. Hospitals are still largely paid by the number of patients they treat and the number of services they provide.

But most of those patients were covered by Medicaid, so reimbursements were low anyway. And the move freed up more ER beds for patients with more critical needs.

“We want to be prepared for life-threatening conditions,” Inman said. “If you’ve got most of your beds taken up by someone who can be receiving patient care outside in the community, then that’s the right thing to do.”

That was less of an issue for the inpatients at Denver Health. Because hospitals are generally paid a fixed amount for a given diagnosis, the longer a patient stays in the hospital, the more money the hospital loses.

“They’ve basically exhausted their benefit under any plan because they don’t meet medical necessity anymore,” Burnette said. “If they had a home, they would go home. But they don’t, so they stay in the hospital.”

 

 

 

Hospitals of All Sizes Experience Profitability Declines in August

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/hospitals-all-sizes-experience-profitability-declines-august?spMailingID=16366319&spUserID=MTg2ODM1MDE3NTU1S0&spJobID=1740190718&spReportId=MTc0MDE5MDcxOAS2

Both expense and volume performance were mixed for the month, according to Kaufman Hall.

For only the second time this year, hospitals of all sizes experienced monthly profitability declines, primarily due to “softening volumes,” according to a Kaufman Hall report released Tuesday.

In the month of August, both overall hospital operating EBITDA margins and operating margins fell by 9.4% and 11.4% year-over-year, respectively.

Kaufman Hall compared the August stagnation to the challenges hospitals faced in June, specifically referencing the ineffective approaches to adjust expenses when patient volumes sputter.

Delving into geographic differences, Midwest hospitals continue to show more resiliency than other areas, according to the report.

Hospitals in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions witnessed the largest declines in August, a 15.8% year-over-year drop in operating EBITDA margin, while the Great Plains posted profitability of 16.7% above budget.

Despite a relatively promising year thus far where hospitals rebounded from market volatility in 2018, provider organizations hit the financial skids in August due to inconsistent volume metrics.

Most volume metrics took a hit, with discharges, adjusted discharges, emergency department visits, and operating room minutes falling by more than 1.2% each.

Meanwhile, adjusted patient days and average length of stay increased by more than 1.6% as well.

Additionally, expense metrics were mixed for most hospitals, as total expenses per adjusted discharge rose 4% year-over-year, while labor expenses for the same metric increased 2.4%.

Purchased service expenses per adjusted discharge rose 6.1% while non-labor expenses and supply expenses for the same metric rose more than 3.5%.

On the non-operating side, the U.S. labor market continued its strong performance in the face of global headwinds and fears about a potential recession in the coming months.

Kaufman Hall described August as “weak month” for investment assets, noting that investment portfolio returns for hospitals declined 0.46%, the first monthly decline since May.