Duke Health credit rating downgraded amid integration and macro concerns

Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Health System was downgraded to an "AA-" credit rating amid concern over its planned integration of the Private Diagnostic Clinic, a for-profit medical group with over 1,800 physicians, Fitch Ratings said Dec. 8.

The rating, declining from "AA," applies both to specific bonds the group holds and to its overall Issuer Default Rating. In addition to the integration of the PDC, Fitch also cited concern over macro issues such as labor and inflationary pressures, which have helped to drag down operating results for the health group.

"While the transition of the PDC into the Duke Health Integrated Practice will only be effective in July 2023, the uncertainty of the proposed change had already caused some disruption to PDC's ability to recruit physicians and may have had a negative impact on volumes," Fitch said.

But while such integration will likely lead to an "extended period of lower operating results," Duke Health is expected to gradually return to much stronger performance given its robust fundamentals, the ratings group added. Historically, the hospital system had pre-pandemic operating EBITDA margins of over 10 percent, compared with a fiscal year 2022 figure of just 2.1 percent.

The health system, which reported $4.5 billion of total operating revenues in 2022, said its CEO, A. Eugene Washington, MD, will step down in June 2023.

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