Fewer, but sicker, patients visit Ascension hospitals in its latest fiscal quarter

Dive Brief:

  • Ascension, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, swung back to black with net income of $1.2 billion in the first quarter of its fiscal year ended Sept. 30 compared with the prior-year period, despite declines in patient volumes in every key metric, including ER, surgery and physician office visits. As such, net patient service revenue declined 1.4%.
  • However, total operating revenue increased nearly 3% thanks to a boost from other revenue lines, including an infusion of CARES funding and favorable joint venture performance, the system reported.  
  • Ascension was able to hold expenses relatively steady, reporting an increase of less than 1% compared to its first quarter of 2019. The system has been increasingly focused on containing costs amid the pandemic. 

Dive Insight:

Many hospitals and health systems are straining under the weight of the pandemic, though some of the largest health systems, buttressed by federal funds and outside investments, are managing to keep operating at a profit during the crisis.

Still, Ascension is likely to experience continued strain on volumes as coronavirus cases soar across the country again — even before heading into the holidays when more people are expected to gather, risking further spread of the novel coronavirus.

Ascension operates 121 acute care hospitals in a footprint heavily concentrated in the Midwest and South, areas currently experiencing large increases in cases. 

September volumes were back to near normal. Equivalent discharges, admissions and surgery visits were 90%, 91% and 99% of September 2019 volumes, respectively. Though ER visits were still a bit off, coming in at 78% of September 2019 volumes. 

The system spent less on needy patients through charity care as those costs fell nearly 15% compared to the prior-year period due to lower patient volumes.  

While Ascension is seeing fewer patients, it noted those coming in are sicker than during the same period last year. The case mix index that is designed to measure patient acuity, or how sick a patient is, increased 6% for the quarter. 

Type of visit 2020 Q1 2019 Q1 Percentage change
Total admissions 186,759 205,838 (9.3%)
ER 669,155 839,183 (20.3%)
Surgery 151,478 161,530 (6.2%)
Office and clinic 3,840,640 3,954,845 (3%)

“This increase is primarily due to higher acuity patients, including COVID positive patients, seeking care during the pandemic,” Ascension management noted in its quarterly report.

Ascension closed out its latest fiscal year on June 30 and reported a net loss of $1 billion due to depressed volumes and expenses outpaced revenue.