This article was originally published by MedCity News.
The significance of credit ratings for health systems cannot be overstated. They serve as a warning sign indicating organizations need to transform. Health systems can no longer rely on top-line revenue to address their inherited problems. It is clear that a fresh approach to cost management is required to break away from past practices and chart a new course toward financial viability and sustainability.
The challenges facing the healthcare industry have reached a critical juncture. Recent reports from Becker’s Hospital Review have shown that forty-one health systems experienced ratings downgrades in 2023. These downgrades reflect a daunting reality as health systems grapple with operating losses, declines in investment values and increasingly challenging work environments.
Credit ratings are the vital signs of a health system, providing a comprehensive look at financial health, potential risks, and opportunities over the next several years. These letter-grade ratings are essential not only for internal governance but for attracting investments and building trust with stakeholders. A downgrade in credit ratings can have far-reaching consequences, affecting an organization’s ability to secure capital, invest in its future and even impact community morale and pride.
Financial ratios and key performance metrics are navigational reference points for most health systems. Downgrades in ratings and even rating outlooks foretell a dark future ahead. With interest rates soaring, the cash flow investments required for day-to-day operations are at risk. Hospitals, in particular, are facing challenging times, and Moody’s recent study reveals that operating margins and earnings have significantly deteriorated. Days of cash on hand have declined, and the road to recovery appears to be lengthy and complex.
Health systems can no longer rely on top-line revenue to address their inherited problems. It is clear that a fresh approach to cost management is required to break away from past practices and chart a new course toward financial viability and sustainability.
Credit downgrades have a significant impact on health system reputation. There are PR and employee relations implications, especially in tight-knit communities, where the reputation of a health system as a major employer is closely tied to community morale and pride. Every organization’s credit score is a flag they wave with pride, representing their commitment to the community.
Downgrades also have an immediate and tangible impact on consumers. It affects staffing, operations, and the ability to provide consistent care. Short-term decision-making becomes a necessity, further challenging the quality and availability of care.
Strong health systems are proactively strategizing to stay ahead of credit downgrades. They understand that conducting business as usual is not sufficient. Looking outside the healthcare industry is often part of the playbook. For example, the importance of nonclinical supply chain management enables health systems to allocate resources where they matter most: patient care. On the other hand, a decision not to pursue overhead cost reduction presents significant risks and potential negative consequences.
Leadership plays a pivotal role in addressing these challenges. The relationship chief financial officers have with chief procurement officers is just as important as the relationship with revenue cycle and payer contracting. However, the key lies in granting greater authority and influence for these supply chain leaders to drive change and efficiency effectively.
The supply chain emerges as a potential gold mine for health systems facing these challenges. With small operating margins, staffing shortages, declining reimbursements, and a growing list of credit downgrades, leaders are under tremendous pressure to explore overlooked areas, particularly nonclinical spending. Spending in these often-underestimated areas can consume up to twenty percent of a health system’s annual revenue. Strategic planning and continual improvement in these domains can provide much-needed financial relief.
The significance of credit ratings for health systems cannot be overstated. They serve as a warning sign indicating organizations need to transform. In the face of today’s challenges, health systems must urgently address their supply chain strategies. By empowering supply chain leaders, adopting new approaches, and prioritizing nonclinical spending, health organizations can not only survive but thrive. It is imperative to find new solutions that prevent further downgrades and secure a brighter future for health systems across the country.