Kaufman Hall: COVID-19 hospitalizations down in January but revenue also in decline

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COVID-19 hospitalizations have started to taper off in hospitals across the country in January after major surges in the fall and winter, a new report in Kaufman Hall said. (Getty Images/Naeblys)

COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to increase at the start of January but declined in the latter half of the month, a new report finds.

The report released Monday from Kaufman Hall showed that hospitals are still facing lower outpatient revenues and profit margins due to stubborn patient volume levels caused by the pandemic.

“The ongoing effects of COVID-19 propelled January’s poor results, but it was a mixed month in terms of COVID-19 metrics,” the report said. “Some key pandemic indicators peaked in early to mid-January but tapered in the second half of the month.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations reached a high of 132,474 on Jan. 6, the result of a consistent rise in hospitalizations that started back in the fall.

However, the number of of hospitalizations fell by nearly 30% to 95,013 by the end of the month, the report said.

New daily hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients were 18,006 on January 5, but the figure dropped by 50% by the second week of February, Kaufman said citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The CDC reported that cases overall have been on the decline. CDC Director Rachel Wallensky told reporters last week that the current seven-day average of about 77,000 cases was the lowest reported since the end of October.

But profit margins continue to be depressed for hospitals.

The operating margins for hospitals declined four percentage points from January 2021 to January of 2020 when factoring in relief funding from the CARES Act. The margins without the cares act were down 4.6 percentage points.

Patient volumes continue to be far below pre-pandemic levels at hospitals.

Kaufman found that patient discharges were down 12.7% in January compared with the same month in 2020. Emergency department visits were the biggest decline, with visits down nearly 25% year over year in January.

“Volumes were down across most metrics as many healthcare consumers continued to avoid or delay care out of concern for potential exposure,” Kaufman said.

While the CDC metrics show “some signs that the country may be turning the corner on the pandemic, its repercussions for the healthcare industry will persist indefinitely,” the report added.

Meanwhile, hospitals are still facing higher expenses due to the pandemic, including increases for labor and supplies like drugs or personal protective equipment.

Total expenses increased 4.5% for hospitals in January compared to the year before and labor expenses hiked 6%.

The report comes as the hospital industry is worried over the increased costs of travel nurses, with the American Hospital Association asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate major price hikes for the temporary staff.