A major question for health systems is how long it will take to fully return to pre-pandemic volumes after shutdowns and virus fears took a major toll on operations last year. They're also wondering when a patchy rally in deferred care will come to push them past pre-pandemic levels.
In the second quarter of this year, for-profit hospital operators saw their volumes largely rebound as COVID-19 cases decreased and more patients sought non-COVID-19 care. Tenet, HCA, Universal Health Services and Community Health Systems all beat Wall Street expectations on earnings and revenue.
Some services were near or back to pre-pandemic levels in the second quarter, though others like emergency room visits are still lagging. A major challenge now is increasing cases of the delta variant that could hinder full recoveries this year, some executives cautioned on calls with investors.
Tenet CEO Ron Rittenmeyer said the first half of the year was "better than expected on many fronts," but added: "Please realize we're not claiming any victory, and we're not relaxing."
The Dallas-based chain posted a $120 million profit in Q2, compared to $88 million during the same time last year, and upped its full-year guidance for the second time this year, citing volume growth and operational improvements as well as federal bailout income.
Nashville-based HCA saw its profit jump 37% year-over-year in the second quarter. And some volume metrics, like same-facility admissions and same-facility equivalent admissions, increased about 3% and 1% respectively compared to the pre-coronavirus baseline. It too raised its guidance, forecasting current levels of demand will continue over the rest of 2021.
After last year's mandated lockdowns and cancellations in elective procedures, health system executives said they're much better positioned to ride future virus waves while continuing operations.
Franklin, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems was somewhat of an outlier, posting a $6 million second quarter profit, down from $70 million during the same quarter last year.
On a call with investors, CHS executives downplayed concerns about the highly transmissible delta variant, saying they were confident in "the ability of our teams to safely and effectively manage COVID surges, while also meeting the increasing demand for our services and to meet the healthcare needs of non-COVID patients."
Universal Health Services posted a $325 million profit in the second quarter, up from $251.9 million during the same quarter last year, and also boosted its full-year guidance. But the delta variant and corresponding labor pressures pose some ongoing uncertainties.
"The concern is with the resurgence of COVID that turnover rates could increase because we've seen turnover rates increase every time that COVID volumes increase," CEO Marc Miller said on a call with investors.