Ascension posts $17M loss in Q3 but sees bright spots in patient volumes

Ascension hospital system posted a $17 million operating loss for the third quarter of the year, but the chain saw bright spots in outpatient and physician office volumes toward the end of the quarter.

Ascension posted total operating revenue of $6.4 billion for the quarter but generated $6.5 billion in operating expenses, according to its earnings report released Thursday.

As of the end of March, Ascension calculated that the pandemic has cost the system $1.9 billion in lost revenue and higher expenses.

“Although the Provider Relief Funds do not fully cover this negative impact, consistent with our mission to serve patients and communities and because of strong stewardship, Ascension was able to absorb the remaining negative financial impact through other operations,” the system said.

The 146-hospital nonprofit Catholic health system has faced volatility in its patient volumes for the nine months that ended March 31.

It saw a 10% decline in equivalent discharges compared to the prior year and a 21% decline in emergency room visits, the earnings report said.

But there were bright spots for the system in March as surges that started at the beginning of 2021 started to ebb.

“Physician office visits, outpatient visits, including outpatient surgeries during the month of March 2021 exceeded pre-pandemic volumes, as compared to the same period in the prior year,” Ascension said.

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For the nine-month period that ended in March, Ascension saw a $1.3 billion increase in operating revenue compared to the same period in the prior year, the report said.

Part of the reason was a 1.2% increase in net patient revenue for the nine-month period compared to the year before.

However, total operating expenses increased 2.1% during the nine-month period thanks to higher costs for wages, employee benefits and supplies. Hospitals across the country have struggled with higher expenses due to the pandemic.

Ascension was helped by COVID-19 provider relief funding to help make up for any shortfalls. It got $1.6 billion in relief funds for 2020 and posted $110 million in relief funds for the first quarter.

The system was also helped by higher acuity among patients treated for COVID-19.