CommonSpirit again in talks to sell off 14 North Dakota, Minnesota hospitals

Although CommonSpirit Health's planned sale of 14 North Dakota and Minnesota hospitals to Essentia Health may not have seen the light of day, the Catholic health system disclosed to investors that another buyer is already at the negotiation table.

According to financial data (PDF) released Tuesday, CommonSpirit is "currently in discussions" to hand off ownership of 13 critical access hospitals, a full-service tertiary hospital and other related clinics to an unnamed third party. The system reported those assets and liabilities as "held for sale" in its quarterly report.

CommonSpirit had initially hashed out a deal to sell the facilities to Essentia Health at the top of the year but, according to a May 18 announcement, "were unable to come to an agreement that would serve the best interests of both organizations, the people we employ and the patients we serve."

Local news outlets had also reported on concerns among those working at the facilities at the time that a deal could lead to staff shortages and poor care. 

In the earnings, CommonSpirit reported $34 million in operating income during the first quarter of its fiscal year, down from $167 million in the same period the year before.

With COVID-19 provider relief stripped out of its operating income, it reported $32 million, compared to an operating loss of $25 million in the prior-year quarter.

For the quarter ending Sept. 30, it reported $8.5 billion in total revenue, including $7.99 billion in patient and premium revenue. That's up $877 million in net patient and premium revenues, or 12.3% year over year, according to the filing. 

Total operating revenues increased $828 million over the prior-year quarter, according to the report.

RELATED: CommonSpirit Health bounces back in FY21 with $1B operating gains

Major challenges in the quarter included the ongoing labor shortages and spikes in COVID-19 cases in the late summer, according to the report. The health system said efforts put in place to maintain stability during the pandemic, such as flex time and furloughs, have evolved into strategies to weather the labor challenges.

For example, CommonSpirit is encouraging workers to take paid time off to manage stress and well-being, shortening length of stay as much as possible and temporarily increasing PTO caps. It has worked with skilled nursing facilities, broadened internal programs and extended the reach of hospitalists to manage the length of stay required for COVID-19 patients, the system said.

"As the industry grapples with escalating salary costs for travelers and staff alike, particularly with increased supplemental pay, CommonSpirit has developed programs to encourage retention and has created internal float pools and an internal registry," the health system said in the filing.

CommonSpirit said that although COVID-19 cases spiked during late July and August, with cases up nearly fivefold during that window, they have trended downward since. The system was well-positioned to manage the spike after weathering similar surges under the pandemic.