- Though U.S. hospital staffing companies are slowly beginning to recover from the COVID-19 shutdown and corresponding drop in revenues, that rebound will lag behind hospitals.
- Recovery of giants like ER staffing firm Envision and AMN Healthcare, which has the largest network of qualified clinicians in the U.S., will be hindered as hospitals prefer to keep their own staff employed over external contractors amid a recession.
- The "pace of recovery will not be linear," and depends on the mix of service lines and geography, S&P Global analysts said in a Thursday note. Analysts also expect hospitals to aggressively renegotiate rates and terms with staffing companies later in the year, which could depress margins even more in the long-term.
The collapse in patient volume following stay-at-home guidelines implemented earlier this year has had a well-documented effect on provider finances. Hospitals and doctor's offices prepared for an influx of COVID-19 patients as lucrative elective procedures declined and revenues imploded.
At the nadir in April, anesthesiology services were down 70%, radiology down 60% and ER visits down 40%, S&P said. Analysts expect tentative recovery in May and June, but no return to pre-pandemic volume until mid-2021.
The dramatic reduction slashed the revenues and cash flows of staffing companies, though the worst is likely over. At the beginning of the pandemic, staffing companies and hospitals alike took preventive measures like furloughing nonessential and back-office workers, extending vendor payment terms, aggressively collecting old receivables and onboarding doctors to telehealth. Many have kept up adequate frontline capacity too, despite uncertain demand.
The economy saw some small gains in May as furloughed employees began to trickle back to work. But the increase in health services employment that month came largely in dental health workers and physician offices. Hospitals shed another 27,000 jobs.
Hospitals will likely fill staffing needs internally, bringing back furloughed or laid off employees first as operations slowly improve, before turning once again to medical contractors.
"Given the extended disruption, a looming recession, and possible lasting changes to health care providers, credit metrics will be much weaker than what we had previously expected for nearly all staffing companies," analysts wrote. "Some staffing companies, particularly those that are highly leveraged, may face very significant liquidity pressures for several months. It is possible not all will be able to withstand the sharp decline."
S&P Global has taken a number of negative rating actions on staffing companies since late March.
Envision and anesthesiology firm ASP Napa, both rated 'CCC' with a negative outlook, have the greatest potential for a default. Envision, owned by private equity firm KKR and one of the largest U.S. physician staffing firms, is reportedly considering a bankruptcy filing as it struggles with $7 billion in debt.
Knoxville, Tenn.-based Team Health and clinical practice management firm SCP Health have enough liquidity to chug along for several more months of lower-than-normal volumes, while AMN and Utah-based CHG Healthcare Services are both in more solid positions to weather the pandemic, S&P said.
But professional outsourced staffing businesses, like anesthesiology and radiology, should recover more quickly, and many firms have gotten financial support from lenders and private equity backers. Team Health, for example, approved a senior secured term loan from its PE sponsor, Blackstone, which covers interest payments in April through mid-May.
Liquidity was also helped by the passage of the $2.2 trillion CARES relief legislation late March.
Several staffing companies have reportedly received grants from the $100 billion allocated by the legislation for providers, along with no-interest loans from accelerated Medicare payments, sparking questions over whether companies backed by cash-rich private equity firms need the funds.