Ardent Health Services, Nashville, reported strong revenue and admissions growth for 2003; but profits fell, and the company said it continues to feel pressure from bad debt expense, in keeping with a trend reported by other investor-owned hospital chains. Ardent, which operates seven acute-care and 21 behavioral health hospitals, said it earned $4.3 million on revenue of $1.3 billion in 2003, for a 0.3% margin. That compared with profits of $5.1 million on revenue of $408 million in 2002, a 1.2% margin. The company took a $2.9 million fourth-quarter charge to write down the value of a medical office building sold during the quarter, depressing both fourth-quarter and year-end profits.
Net patient service revenue rose 73% to $640.9 million. Net premium revenue grew nearly 44 times to $592.3 million because of the January 2003 acquisition of Lovelace Health System, Albuquerque, which included a 161,000-member health plan. Adjusted admissions at Ardent's acute-care hospitals more than tripled thanks to the Lovelace acquisition and a full year of owning four other Albuquerque hospitals purchased in 2002 from Catholic Health Initiatives. On a same-hospital basis, adjusted acute-care admissions grew 5.5%. Although bad debt expense more than doubled at the acute-care hospitals, revenue grew faster, resulting in 10.2% of acute-care revenue being expensed as bad debt, versus 12% in 2002. -- by Vince Galloro