- Ascension, one of the nation's largest health systems, reported widespread growth in patient volumes during its first quarter, which ended Sept. 30. As a result, net patient service revenue grew nearly 7% from the prior-year period, helping to boost total revenue growth of about 5%.
- The St. Louis-based nonprofit reported operating income of $25 million for the quarter, a steep decline from the prior-year period, which the system attributed to the decrease in government funding that was funneled to providers to help them weather the pandemic.
- Expenses climbed 6.4% as the increase in patients required Ascension to use more contract labor, costly drugs and personal protective equipment, according to its financial results. Overall, Ascension reported net income of $80.4 million, a major decrease from the prior-year period's $1.2 billion.
Ascension, like other operators, reported near record COVID-19 inpatient volumes for the quarter even as vaccines have become widely available.
Ascension said it "experienced the second highest inpatient census for COVID patients since the onset of the pandemic." Recurrent COVID-19 surges were most notable in its southern markets.
The financial results, released Friday, come as federal health officials report a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations even among the vaccinated. To curb another surge, the FDA gave the green light for boosters for all adults after previously authorizing them only for people with certain health conditions.
Although volumes remain below pre-pandemic levels, Ascension did see broad volume growth compared with the same quarter a year ago.
For example, Ascension said equivalent discharges, admissions, emergency room visits, urgent care visits and physician office and clinic visits all increased from the prior-year period. Most notably, emergency room visits grew the most, by 18%.
However, not all key categories reported volume gains. Total surgery visits were down nearly 4% due to fewer inpatient surgeries, Ascension said.
As the industry continues to experience labor challenges, Ascension reported an increase in salaries, wages and benefits as it pays more for labor due to higher volumes.
Also challenging operations is the trend of patients staying longer. And they appear to be sicker than the were a year ago, according to the slight increase in case mix index. As a result, patients require more care and supplies, which has led to an increase in the cost per discharge.
Other large nonprofit operators like CommonSpirit and Providence Health also felt margin pressure due to the increased demand on services from the latest delta surge.