Nonprofit hospitals' 'deceptively strong' financial metrics likely to end, Fitch says

Nonprofit hospitals' median financial metrics showed improvement last year, but Fitch Ratings is projecting declines for next year and beyond. 

The credit rating agency analyzed 2021 audited data and reported that "AA" rated hospital medians showed a 20 percent increase in cash to adjusted debt. "BBB" rated health systems had an 8 percent increase.

"The deceptively strong numerical improvements over prior years' medians are less a sign of sector resiliency and more a cautionary calm before the storm," Fitch Ratings senior director Kevin Holloran said in the Aug. 18 report. "Additional expenses, primarily labor, have become part of the permanent fabric of hospital operations, that when combined with ongoing incremental challenges will exert tremendous pressure on providers through calendar 2022 and beyond."

Fitch predicts hospital medians will flip this time next year due to inflationary pressures, a challenging operational start to 2022 and additional omicron sub-variants. 

Fitch also highlighted staffing as a concern for hospital medians. 

"We are likely two years before some level of 'normal' returns to the sector," Mr. Holloran said in the report. "For many hospitals, their 'value journey' will be on temporary hold until expenses stabilize and become more predictable."

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