There's never a good time for a hurricane. But if you're a healthcare provider, October is a particularly bad time.
October marks the beginning of the fourth quarter for companies whose fiscal years run from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. It's typically a good quarter financially because many patients have met their health insurance deductibles and flock to providers for elective procedures they wouldn't have gotten earlier in the year.
Investor-owned hospital chains Community Health Systems, Universal Health Services and HCA Healthcare are all bracing for impact from Hurricane Michael, which made landfall early Wednesday afternoon near Mexico Beach, Fla.
But the healthcare investment bank Leerink Partners doesn't project the Category 4 storm will take a huge bite out of providers' bottom lines. It predicts CHS, UHS and HCA will see a less than 0.5% hit to their projected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in the quarter as a result of the storm. Ana Gupte, Leerink's managing director of healthcare services, said that projection is based off of current weather forecasts, and could change depending on the path the storm takes.
Most of the exposure is on the ambulatory side, where most of the elective procedures in question take place, Gupte said. On the bright side, she said it's early enough in the quarter that any missed appointments can probably be rescheduled before the end of the year. And not everyone has met their deductible yet.
"By the next month or so, November and December, as the deductibles really start to get exhausted, that will be more impactful," she said.
Ten CHS hospitals in Florida, Alabama and Georgia have implemented disaster response plans and are in regular communication with their local emergency response agencies in preparation for weather related to Hurricane Michael, CHS spokeswoman Rebecca Ayer wrote in an email. Each of the 10 hospitals plans to remain open, and none are in the storm's direct path, she said.
CHS has deployed mobile generators to the affected sites, and hospital leadership is in contact with CHS' disaster response team to ensure a coordinated response if additional resources are needed, Ayer said.
Similarly, HCA has activated its Nashville-based incident response team of nearly 200 members, HCA spokesman Harlow Sumerford wrote in an email.
"A coordinated effort across the HCA Healthcare enterprise is happening 24/7 to ensure the safety of our patients and colleagues and to sustain operations following its impact," she said.
HCA prepared in advance to ensure its hospitals in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina had enough staff, medications, supplies, food, water and generator power to care for patients during and after the storm. HCA's Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center in Panama City even began transferring its sickest patients to other facilities on Monday.
A UHS spokeswoman did not return a request seeking comment.