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File photo / HCA Parkridge Hospital is one of 186 hospitals owned by HCA Healthcare inc., which is headquartered in Nashville.

America's biggest hospital company suffered a 12.8% drop in admissions in the second quarter due to the suspension of many elective surgeries this spring due to the coronavirus.

But HCA Healthcare Inc.., the Nashville-based hospital chain which operates HCA Parkridge in Chattanooga among 186 hospitals across the country, still boosted its profits during the spring quarter with the aid of Uncle Sam.

HCA said Wednesday it had net income of $1.079 billion, or $3.16 a share, in the quarter, up from $783 million, or $2.25 a share, in the year-earlier period. The results topped Wall Street expectations, which had anticipated HCA would lose money during the quarter.

In response to the better-than-expected results, shares of HCA were trading up nearly 14% Wednesday morning to their highest pric since early March before the coronavirus pandemic hit the economy and limited many hospital operations.

HCA said it got  $822 million, or $1.73 a share, in government stimulus income in the quarter under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act.  It also booked losses on sales of facilities of $27 million, or 7 cents a share, along with gains on sales of facilities of $18 million, or 4 cents a share.

HCA revenue fell to $11.068 billion from $12.602 billion. Same-facility inpatient surgeries declined 15.7 percent, while same-facility outpatient surgeries declined 32.6 percent, as non-emergency procedures were halted during the pandemic.

"Patient volumes across most service lines were significantly impacted in April due to state and local policies implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19 and preserve personal protective equipment,"  HCA said in its quarterly earnings report. "Patient volumes gradually improved in May and June as states began to re-open and allow for non-emergent procedures."

Sam Hazen, chief executive officer of HCA Healthcare, praised the 280,000 employees of the company for their service during the pandemic.

"Throughout this remarkably challenging pandemic, I am reminded daily of what an incredible and resilient organization we have,"Hazen said.

Prior to Wednesday's earnings release, HCA shares had fallen 26% since the beginning of the year, but the company made up about half of that drop in early trading Wednesday.

HCA said the CARES Act adopted by Congress in March "has played an essential role in allowing health care providers to continue to provide high quality care to patients and communities across the country" and allowed HCA to keep the vast majority of its staff in place even when hospital volumes fell.

"Health systems across the country were materially impacted, even if they actually saw only limited COVID-19 activity," HCA said in a statement.

Responding to the coronavirus required HCA and other hospitals to develop new ICU and surge capacity, secure personal protection equipment for staff, and ensure ventilator capacity as well as other equipment.

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