Watch this Sunday's edition of "Naples Daily NewsMakers with Jeff Lytle" at 10 a.m. on ABC7 for an interview with Health Management Associates Florida President Alan Levine. The video will be available at naplesnews.com/newsmakers on Monday.
NAPLES — A critical "60 Minutes" news story may have contributed to a jump in observation-only stays at hospitals owned by Health Management Associates Inc.
In a conference call Friday, the company's CEO, Gary Newsome, said the broadcast aired in December may have been one of the factors that led to an increase in observation stays in the fourth quarter of last year. The stays, not logged as patient admissions, were up 24 percent.
In the "60 Minutes" report, former employees accused the Naples-based hospital chain of giving physicians quotas to admit patients as a way to boost company revenue. HMA has denied those accusations.
HMA physicians may feel like "someone is looking over their shoulder," which could be influencing decisions about whether to admit patients, Newsome said, But, he noted, it would be difficult and time-consuming to verify.
There's likely a number of reasons for the increase in observational stays, including more cases of the flu, which don't usually lead to admissions, Newsome said.
"When patients are admitted, they are really sick," he said.
HMA owns 70 hospitals in 15 states, which includes Physicians Regional hospitals on Pine Ridge Road and Collier Boulevard in Collier County, and a hospital in Lehigh Acres in Lee County.
In the fourth quarter, patient admissions at HMA's same-hospitals, or hospitals it has owned at least a year, fell 4.7 percent, which the company attributed to the continued effects of a sluggish economy, declines in uninsured admissions and increases in observation stays. Meanwhile, same-hospital surgeries grew 0.9 percent and emergency room visits rose 9.2 percent, in part due to more flu cases across the country this winter.
While the economy and unemployment rates are improving, Newsome in the past has said HMA continues to see people moving out of its markets, which is also affecting patient admissions.
By the numbers
The for-profit HMA is the fourth-largest hospital chain in the nation with 70 hospitals, including the two Physicians Regional Medical Centers in Collier County and one in Lehigh Acres in Lee County.
Analyst Sheryl Skolnick, with CRT Capital Group LLC, remains critical of HMA.
"Our long experience with hospital investing has taught us that buying or owning hospitals in shrinking markets rarely makes for a successful investment," she wrote in a research note. "How is HMA different from those suffering rural hospitals that are forced to close because their markets can no longer support the ER or the beds?"
Despite seeing fewer admissions, revenue at HMA's same-hospitals rose 5.1 percent in the quarter, with net revenue per adjusted admission up 5.2 percent.
The company reported its earnings from continuing operations rose to 19 cents a share in the fourth quarter, up from 13 cents a share a year ago.
However, excluding the impact from its interest rate swap agreements and $52.6 million of Medicare and Medicaid Healthcare Information Technology incentive payments, earnings came in at 12 cents a share, a penny less than last year.
Shares nearly reached a new 52-week high Friday. They closed at $10.76, up 6 cents, on the New York Stock Exchange.