ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

The nation's biggest hospital chain which treated nearly 40,000 inpatient COVID-19 cases in the past quarter expects the share of coronavirus cases to decline in 2021 but still comprise up to 5% of its hospital admissions through 2021 as the virus lingers in the United States next year.

HCA, the Nashville-based hospital chain that owns Parkridge hospitals in Chattanooga, said Monday that about 6% of its hospital beds are filled with COVID-19 patients being treated for symptoms of the respiratory virus. Despite the number and extended length of such cases, overall hospital admissions at HCA hospitals were down 3.8% in the past quarter and are projected to still be 2% lower than 2019 volumes next year.

Emergency room visits dropped 20.3% and inpatient surgeries were off 6.8% in the third quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2019. The decline is primarily from minor accidents and illnesses not coming to hospital ERs due, in part, to concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Sam Hazen, CEO of HCA Holdings, told analysts Monday that hospitals expect to be treating COVID-19 patients throughout 2021 and will be treating fewer but more medically acute cases and sicker patients in its facilities.

"Recognizing that there are many variables that could affect next year, at this point, we believe it is reasonable to estimate around 4% to 5% of our 2021 admissions could be related to the virus," Hazen said. "This factor suggests continued high levels of acuity and our overall mix of inpatient business, which should provide some support for current inpatient revenue trends Overall, we believe demand for inpatient admissions next year will be down from 2019 approximately 2% to 3% but again with the mix being more acute."

In its third quarter earnings results announced Monday, HCA said its revenues in the past three months were up 5% over a year ago to $13.31 billion, which topped Wall Street estimates. But the third quarter earnings of $668 million, or $1.95 per share, fell short of Wall Street expectations even though GAAP net income was up from the $612 million, or $1.76 per share, earned a year earlier. The average estimate of eight analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $2.69 per share.

Hazen said HCA has weathered the COVID-19 storm well and will soon repay the federal government the $5 billion provided to the hospital chain for COVID-19 relief and advanced payments, including $6.6 million to Parkridge in Chattanooga.

"Since the onset of this historic event, we have improved many clinical, operational, technology and organizational capabilities," Hazen said. "We believe these improvements, coupled with the financial flexibility we possess, should provide us with a platform to drive long-term growth and shareholder value."

HCA announced earlier this month that it plans to return or repay early all of the $1.6 billion it received from the Provider Relief Fund under the CARES Act and $4.4 billion it received from Medicare in accelerated payments. HCA said the timing of the repayments is being worked on with federal agencies and the company will use available cash and future operating cash flows to repay the COVID relief.

In response to the earnings report, shares of HCA on Monday fell slightly by $1.16 per share, or 0.85%, to close at $135,43 per share.

HCA shares have fallen nearly 8% since the beginning of the year. The stock has climbed slightly more than 9% in the past 12 months, however.

HCA operates 186 hospitals across the United States, including Parkridge, Parkridge East, Parkridge West and Parkridge Valley hospitals in the Chattanooga market. Collectively, Parkridge employs about 1,900 workers in Chattanooga and is the third biggest hospital network in the market behind only Erlanger Health System and CHI Memorial hospital.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT