As HCA beats Q4 expectations, hospital giant points to talent strategy as key 'competitive advantage'

As Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare pursues an ambitious strategy to build market share around the country, it's also focusing on developing its clinical workforce as a key "competitive advantage," officials said during their latest earnings report Tuesday. 

The healthcare giant has been growing its overall number of physicians by 1.5% to 2% every year for the last several years by focusing on being a "physician-friendly" organization, HCA CEO Sam Hazen said in the company's earnings call. Now, it's working to expand its pipeline for nurses with its deal earlier this month to buy majority ownership of the Galen College of Nursing, he said.

The Galen College of Nursing is one of the nation's largest private nursing schools. The Louisville, Kentucky-based school has 5,000 students enrolled across five campuses nationwide and an online program. 

"They have a scalable model, and when we connect their scalable model with the unique platform of HCA, we think we can create a nursing school education program that starts to scale off across most of our major markets," Hazen said.

"We’re in the final stages of building a multi-year plan to expand the Galen [College] of Nursing and integrate that component of education with the robust agenda we have for clinical education in nursing support for our existing nurses, hopefully creating both a pipeline and a continuous education cycle inside of HCA so that our nurses are more capable of delivering high-quality care but also have more opportunities for growth," he said. "We think that’s a winning formula for us."

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Overall, HCA beat expectations as it reported $1.07 billion in profits in the fourth quarter that ended Dec. 31 on revenues of $13.5 billion. That was up less than 1% from $1.06 billion on revenues of $12.3 billion from the same quarter a year ago. The healthcare giant credited higher revenues and increased admissions. HCA's same facility admissions and same facility equivalent admissions increased 4.7% and 5%, respectively.

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HCA reported 2020 revenue guidance in the range of $53.5 billion to $55.5 billion. Capital expenditures are anticipated in the range of $4 billion to $4.2 billion with ongoing acquisitions expected this year as the company responds to  "growing demand" for healthcare services in HCA markets. 

In 2019, the company acquired multiple outpatient access points including an urgent care center, a few ambulatory surgery centers and freestanding emergency departments. The company now has more than 2,000 sites of care connected to its 185 hospitals. Earlier this month, HCA also acquired Valify, a Frisco, Texas-based technology company focused on helping clients reduce the overall cost of healthcare services.

"We’re very protective over our portfolio for a reason. Part of that is due to the fact we’re trying to pick markets that have macro trends that are supportive of a growth agenda," Hazen said. "What I would suggest is we have a model that we believe is very competitive and responsive to the marketplace. It responds to those growth opportunities, it responds to competitive dynamics and really responds to our stakeholders, our patients, our physicians, our employees and really the community."

The company is building out broader and "more clinically capable networks," he said.

"We want our networks to be conveniently located, easy for the patient to access and navigate, have different price points and then fundamentally are one-stop shops as a system with comprehensive service lines so a patient can obtain all their healthcare inside the HCA network," Hazen said.