New Jersey hospital shifts to freestanding ER after Trinity, Capital Health transaction closes

St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, N.J., on Dec. 21 transitioned to a freestanding emergency room that offers various outpatient services after Capital Health acquired the hospital from Trinity Health, according to PBS affiliate WHYY.

The campus, renamed Capital Health – East Trenton, must feature a primary family health clinic and a women’s OB/GYN clinic, according to terms of the transaction. 

Other services, such as cardiac surgery, are moving to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, where “extensive capital projects” are being planned, the health system said in a Dec. 8 news release. 

A St. Francis spokesperson told the news outlet that the hospital had been financially struggling for years. 

“St. Francis has done many great things for the Trenton community, but the current healthcare landscape has made it unsustainable,” Capital Health President and CEO Al Maghazehe said. “Without these key approvals, Trenton would have lost desperately needed healthcare services, including emergency services, behavioral health and cardiac surgery.” 

Capital Health said it has taken “a significant risk” to try and prevent a healthcare crisis for Trenton’s 90,000 residents, according to the report.

CFOs experienced in cutting costs, restructuring in high demand

Fall is typically a period of increased CFO turnover as hospitals and health systems begin searches for new executives for the beginning of the following year, but the pressures associated with high inflation, a projected recession and the continued effects of the pandemic have led to more churn than usual for top financial positions, The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 23

Many economists and financial experts are expecting a recession to hit the U.S. in early- to mid-2023. This is pushing some executives to switch roles now before the labor market changes. Many healthcare organizations are also preparing for a potential economic downturn by searching for CFOs who are experienced in cutting costs or restructuring operations, according to the report.

Recession planning in healthcare is challenging because it can have both negative (payer mix, patient volume) and positive effects (decrease in labor and supply inflation) on financial performance, according to Daniel Morash, senior vice president of finance and CFO for Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The best advice I would give is that hospitals need to consider recession scenarios when making long-term commitments on wage increases, capital expenditures and planning for capacity for patient access,” Mr. Morash told Becker’s Hospital Review. “Most of our focus needs to be on the acute challenges we are facing. Still, it’s important to be careful not to overreact or overcommit financially when a recession could change a number of trends we’re seeing now.”

In Defense of Value: A Response to Ken Kaufman

In an Oct. 5, 2022, commentary, Ken Kaufman offers a full-throated and heartfelt defense of non-profit healthcare during a time of significant financial hardship. Ken describes 2022 as “the worst financial year for hospitals in memory.” His concern is legitimate. The foundations of the nonprofit healthcare business model appear to be collapsing. I’ve known and worked with Ken Kaufman for decades. He is the life force behind Kaufman Hall, a premier financial and strategic advisor to nonprofit hospitals and health systems. The American Hospital Association uses Kaufman Hall’s analysis of hospitals’ underlying financial trends to support its plea for Congressional funding. Beyond the red ink, Ken laments the “media free-for-all challenging the tax-exempt status, financial practices, and ostensible market power of not-for-profit hospitals and health systems.” He is referring to three recent investigative reports on nonprofits’ skimpy levels of charity care (Wall Street Journal), aggressive collection tactics (New York Times) and 340B drug purchasing program abuses (New York Times). Ken has never been timid about expressing his opinions. He’s passionate, partisan and proud. His defense of nonprofit healthcare chronicles their selfless care of critically ill patients, the 24/7 demands on their resources and their commitment to treating the uninsured. These “must have clinical services…don’t just magically appear.” Nonprofit healthcare needs “our support and validation in the face of extreme economic conditions and organizational headwinds. ”Given his personality, it’s not surprising that Ken’s strident rhetoric in defending nonprofit healthcare reminds me of the famous “You can’t handle the truth” exchange between Lieutenant Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) from the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.” Kaffee presses Jessup on whether he ordered a “code red” that led to the death of a soldier under his command. When Kaffee declares he’s entitled to the truth, Jessup erupts,… I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man that rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you say, “thank you” and be on your way. Should American society just say “thank you” to nonprofit healthcare and provide the massive incremental funding required to sustain their current operations?
Truth and Consequences
(Download PDF here)The social theorist Thomas Sowell astutely observed, “If you want to help someone, tell them the truth. If you want to help yourself, tell them what they want to hear.” In this commentary, Ken Kaufman is telling nonprofit healthcare exactly what they want to hear. The truth is more nuanced, troubling and inconvenient. Healthcare now consumes 20 percent of the national economy and the American people are sicker than ever. Despite the high healthcare funding levels, the CDC recently reported in U.S. life expectancy dropped almost a full year in 2021. Other wealthy nations experienced increases in life expectancy. Combining 2020 and 2021, the 2.7-year drop in U.S. life expectancy is the largest since the early 1920s. During an interview regarding the September 28, 2022, White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, Senator Cory Booker highlighted two facts that capture America’s healthcare dilemma. One in three government dollars funds healthcare expenditure. Half of Americans suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetes.As a nation, we’re chasing our tail by prioritizing treatment over prevention. Particularly in low-income rural and urban communities, there is a breathtaking lack of vital primary care, disease management and mental health services. Instead of preventing disease, our healthcare system has become adept at keeping sick people alive with a diminished life quality. There is plenty of money in the system to amputate a foot but little to manage the diabetes that necessitates the amputation. Despite mission statements to the contrary, nonprofit healthcare follows the money. The only meaningful difference between nonprofit and for-profit healthcare is tax status. Each seeks to maximize treatment revenues by manipulating complex payment formularies and using market leverage to negotiate higher commercial payment rates. According to Grandview Research, the market for revenue cycle management in 2022 is $140.4 billion and forecasted to grow at a 10% annual rate through 2030. By contrast, Ibis World forecasts the U.S. automobile market to grow 2.6% in 2022 to reach $100.9 billion. Unbelievably, in today’s America, processing medical claims is far more lucrative than manufacturing and selling cars and trucks. According to CMS’s National Expenditure Report for 2020, hospitals (31%) and physicians and clinical services (20%) accounted for over half of national healthcare expenditures. This included $175 billion allocated to providers through the CARES Act. Despite the massive waste embedded within healthcare delivery, the CARES Act funding gave providers the illusion that America would continue to fund its profligate and often ineffective operations. It’s not at all surprising that healthcare providers now want, even expect, more emergency funding. Change is hard. Not even during COVID did providers give up their insistence on volume-based payment. Providers did not embrace proven virtual care and hospital-at-home business practices until CMS guaranteed equivalent payment to existing in-hospital/clinic service provision. Even with parity payment and the massive CARES Act funding, there was uneven care access for COVID patients. Particularly in low-income communities, tens of thousands died because they did not receive appropriate care. More of the same approach to healthcare delivery will yield more of the same dismal results. Healthcare providers have had over a decade to advance value-based care (VBC). I define VBC as the right care at the right time in the right place at the right price. Instead of pursuing VBC, providers have doubled-down on volume-driven business models that attract higher-paying commercially-insured patients. Despite the relative ease of migrating service provision to lower-cost settings, providers insist on operating high-cost, centralized delivery models (think hospitals). They want society, writ large, to continue paying premium prices for routine care. It’s time to stop. As a country, we need less healthcare and more health.
A Fourth Question
(Download PDF here)

When I give speeches to healthcare audiences, I typically begin with three yes-or-no questions about U.S. healthcare to establish the foundation for my subsequent observations. Here they are. Question #1: The U.S. spends 20% of its economy on healthcare. The big country with the next highest percentage spend is France at 12%. How many believe we need to spend more than 20% of our economy to provide great healthcare to everyone in the country? No one ever raises their hand. Question #2: The CDC estimates that 90% of healthcare expenditure goes to treat individuals with chronic disease and mental health conditions. How many believe we’re winning the war against chronic disease and mental health conditions? No one ever raises their hand. Question #3: Given the answer to the previous two questions, how many believe the system needs to shift resources from acute and specialty care into health promotion, primary care, chronic disease management and behavioral health? Everyone raises their hands. This short exercise is quite revealing. It demonstrates that healthcare doesn’t have a funding problem. It has a distribution problem. It also demonstrates that providers aren’t adequately addressing our most critical healthcare challenge, exploding chronic disease and mental health conditions. Finally, the industry needs major restructuring.

The real questions about reforming healthcare are less about what to reform and more about how to undertake reform. The increasing media scrutiny that Ken Kaufman references as well as growing consumer frustrations with healthcare service provision, demonstrate that healthcare is losing the battle for America’s hearts and minds.

Markets are unforgiving. The operating losses most nonprofit providers are experiencing reflect a harsh reality. Their current business models are not sustainable. An economic reckoning is underway. The long arc of economics points toward value. As healthcare deconstructs, the nation’s acute care footprint will shrink, hospitals will close and value-based care delivery will advance. The process will be messy.

The devolving healthcare marketplace led me to ask a fourth question recently in Nashville during a keynote speech to the Council of Pharmacy Executives and Suppliers. Here it is. Question #4: As the healthcare system reforms, will that process be evolutionary (reflecting incremental change) or revolutionary (reflecting fundamental change). Two-thirds voted that the change would be revolutionary. That response is just one data point but it reflects why post-COVID healthcare reform is different than the reform efforts that have preceded it. The costs of maintaining status-quo healthcare are simply too high. From a policy perspective, either market-driven healthcare reforms will drive better outcomes at lower costs (that’s my hope) or America will shift to a government-managed healthcare system like those in Germany, France and Japan.

Like Ken Kaufman, I admire frontline healthcare workers and believe we need to make their vital work less burdensome. I also sympathize with health system executives who are struggling to overcome legacy business practices and massive operating deficits. Unfortunately, most are relying on revenue-maximizing playbooks rather than reconfiguring their operations to advance consumerism and value-based care delivery.

Unlike Ken Kaufman, I believe it’s time for some tough love with nonprofit healthcare providers. Payers must tie new incremental funding to concrete movement into value-based care delivery. This was the argument Zeke Emanuel, Merrill Goozner and I made in a two-part commentary (part 1part 2) in Health Affairs earlier this year. It’s also why the HFMA, where I serve on the Board, has made “cost effectiveness of health (CEoH)” its new operating mantra.

While this truth may be hard, it also is liberating. Freeing nonprofit organizations from their attachment to perverse payment incentives can create the impetus to embrace consumerism and value. Kinder, smarter and affordable care for all Americans will follow.

A rough year so far for health system finances

https://mailchi.mp/b1e0aa55afe5/the-weekly-gist-october-7-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

As everyone in our industry knows, sluggish volumes amid persistently rising costs, especially for labor, have sent health system margins into a downward spiral across 2022. Using the latest data from consultancy Kaufman Hall, the graphic above shows that by the end of this year, employed labor expenses will have increased more than all non-labor costs combined. 

While contract labor usage, namely travel nursing, is declining, the constant battle for nursing talent means travel nurses are still a significant expense at many hospitals. Through the first six months of this year, over half of hospitals reported a negative operating margin, and the median hospital operating margin has dropped over 100 percent from 2019. 

Larger health systems are not faring better: all five of the large, multi-regional, not-for-profit systems we’ve highlighted below saw their operating margins tumble this year, with drops ranging from three points (Kaiser Permanente) to nearly seven points (CommonSpirit Health and Providence). 

While these unfavorable cost trends have been building throughout COVID, health systems now have neither federal relief nor returns from a thriving stock market to help stabilize their deteriorating financial outlooks. 

Health system boards will tolerate negative margins in the short-term (especially given that many have months’ worth of days cash on hand), but if this situation persists into 2023, pressure for service cuts, layoffs, and restructuring will mount quickly. 

Hospitals need ‘transformational changes’ to stem margin erosion

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/Fitch-ratings-nonprofit-hospital-changes/627662/

Dive Brief:

  • Nonprofit hospitals are reporting thinner margins this year, stretched by rising labor, supply and capital costs, and will be pressed to make big changes to their business models or risk negative rating actions, Fitch Ratings said in a report out Tuesday.
  • Warning that it could take years for provider margins to recover to pre-pandemic levels, Fitch outlined a series of steps necessary to manage the inflationary pressures. Those moves include steeper rate increases in the short term and “relentless, ongoing cost-cutting and productivity improvements” over the medium term, the ratings agency said.
  • Further out on the horizon, “improvement in operating margins from reduced levels will require hospitals to make transformational changes to the business model,” Fitch cautioned.

Dive Insight:

It has been a rough year so far for U.S. hospitals, which are navigating labor shortages, rising operating costs and a rebound in healthcare utilization that has followed the suppressed demand of the early pandemic. 

The strain on operations has resulted in five straight months of negative margins for health systems, according to Kaufman Hall’s latest hospital performance report.

Fitch said the majority of the hospitals it follows have strong balance sheets that will provide a cushion for a period of time. But with cost inflation at levels not seen since the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the potential for additional coronavirus surges this fall and winter, more substantial changes to hospitals’ business models could be necessary to avoid negative rating actions, the agency said.

Providers will look to secure much higher rate increases from commercial payers. However, insurers are under similar pressures as hospitals and will push back, using leverage gained through the sector’s consolidation, the report said.

As a result, commercial insurers’ rate increases are likely to exceed those of recent years, but remain below the rate of inflation in the short term, Fitch said. Further, federal budget deficits make Medicare or Medicaid rate adjustments to offset inflation unlikely.

An early look at state regulatory filings this summer suggests insurers who offer plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges will seek substantial premium hikes in 2023, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The median rate increase requested by 72 ACA insurers was 10% in the KFF study.

Inflation is pushing more providers to consider mergers and acquisitions to create economies of scale, Fitch said. But regulators are scrutinizing deals more strenuously due to concerns that consolidation will push prices even higher. With increased capital costs, rising interest rates and ongoing supply chain disruptions, hospitals’ plans for expansion or renovations will cost more or may be postponed, the report said.

Providence restructures leadership team, cuts executive jobs

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/providence-job-cuts/627660/

Providence said Tuesday it is restructuring and reducing executive roles amid persistent operating challenges spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Providence said it will reduce its regional executive teams to three divisions from seven. The Washington-based nonprofit health system also has plans to consolidate three clinical lines of business — physician enterprise, ambulatory care network and clinical institutes — down to one executive leadership team. 

“We began this journey before the pandemic, but it has become even more imperative today as health systems across the country face a new reality,” Providence President and CEO Rod Hochman said in a statement. 

The new operating model is aimed at protecting direct patient care staff and other essential roles, Melissa Tizon, vice president of communication, told Healthcare Dive. 

It’s unclear how many roles will be eliminated as part of the restructuring. Providence did not provide a specific number of job reductions. 

Erik Wexler, former president of strategy and operations in Providence’s southern regions, will step into a new role as chief operating officer and will oversee the three new divisions.

Kevin Manemann will serve as division chief executive of the South region, which includes operations in Southern and Northern California. 

Joel Gilbertson, division chief executive for the central region, will oversee operations in Eastern Washington, Montana, Oregon, Texas and New Mexico. 

Guy Hudson will lead the North Division, which includes operations in Western Washington and Alaska. Hudson will keep his role as president and CEO of Swedish Health Services in Seattle. 

David Kim, an executive vice president, will lead the three clinical business lines that were consolidated under one leadership team. 

The shakeup comes after Providence reported in March that its operating loss doubled in 2021, reaching $714 million as operating expenses climbed 8% for the year. 

The system said it treated more patients who were sicker and required a higher level of care than in 2020 and, at the same time, struggled with labor shortages.

Sutter launches ‘sweeping review’ of finances after $321M operating loss

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/sutter-launches-sweeping-review-of-finances-after-321m-operating-loss/596221/

Digital assistant uses AI to ease medical documentation at Sutter | Health  Data Management

Dive Brief:

  • Sutter Health is launching a “sweeping review” of its finances and operations due to the pandemic’s squeeze on the system in 2020, which led to a $321 million operational loss, the system said Thursday. 
  • The giant hospital provider in Northern California said it will take “several years to fully recover,” adding that it plans to restructure and even close some programs and services that attract fewer patients, and will reassign those employees to busier parts of its network. 
  • Sutter, which spent $431 million to modernize its facilities last year, is also reassessing its future capital investments due to its current financial situation. 

Dive Insight:

The pandemic “exacerbated” existing challenges for the provider, including labor costs, Sutter said. 

Expenses again outpaced revenue in 2020 and Sutter fears the trajectory is “unsustainable.” 

In 2020, Sutter generated revenue of $13.2 billion which was eclipsed by $13.5 billion in expenses, which was actually lower than its total expenses reported in 2019. 

Last year, the system invested heavily to prepare for the pandemic, buying up personal protective equipment and other supplies all while volumes declined. Sutter estimates it spent at least $121 million on COVID-19 supplies, which does not include outside staffing costs. 

Sutter said labor costs represented 60% of its total operating expenses, blaming high hospital wage indexes in Northern California, which it said are among the priciest in the country.

Still, Sutter was able to post net income of $134 million thanks in part to investment income, which was also deflated compared to the year prior. 

Volume has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, the system said. 

Admissions, emergency room visits and outpatient revenues all fell year over year, according to figures in Sutter’s audited financial statements. 

Other major health systems were pinched by the pandemic but were able to post a profit, including Kaiser Permanente.  

Genesis HealthCare plans to cut $236M in debt, delist stock from NYSE

Genesis Corporate Headquarters | Paul Risk Construction

Kennett Square, Pa.-based Genesis HealthCare will institute a three-pronged restructuring plan to improve its financial metrics and cut debt by $236 million, the company said March 3. 

Genesis HealthCare is a holding company with subsidiaries that provide services to more than 325 skilled nursing facilities and assisted or senior living communities in 24 states. 

As part of its financial improvement strategy, Genesis agreed to end master lease agreements at 51 assisted or senior living facilities leased from Welltower and transition them to new operators. Genesis expects to receive $86 million from the deal, which it will use to repay a portion of its debt obligations to Welltower. 

Genesis will also receive $170 million in debt reduction from Welltower after completing the transaction. 

The company also signed a definitive agreement for a capital infusion of $50 million from ReGen Healthcare, which ups its ownership interest in Genesis to 25 percent.  

The third part of the strategy is that it will voluntarily delist its Class A common stock from the New York Stock Exchange and deregister its common stock under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

“The severity of the pandemic dramatically impacted patient admissions, revenues and costs, compounding the pressures of our long-term, lease-related debt obligations,” said Genesis CEO Robert Fish. “These restructuring transactions improve the financial and operational stability of the company significantly and build on the encouraging signs we are seeing as COVID-19 case rates continue to materially decline and residents, patients and staff are vaccinated.”