"The payer mix at Northwestern, for the most part, is more attractive than almost any other location in the city," says Tim Classen, an associate professor of economics at Loyola University Chicago's Quinlan School of Business.
Orsini said the system's payer mix and service mix haven't changed much amid COVID-19 and that, "overall, I would not say there's any real area of concern."
Northwestern's hospitals have treated more than 6,700 COVID-19 patients—that's about 4 percent of the state's confirmed cases as of July 21. Its busiest day for COVID-19 was April 21, with 422 coronavirus patients admitted across all its hospitals, which have more than 2,000 beds total.
Despite widespread fear of infection, the hospital chain has managed to bring patients back for elective procedures faster than some rivals. Orsini said overall patient activity had returned to at least 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels by July 21.
The hospital network did 38,357 outpatient surgeries between Sept. 1 and May 31, down nearly 13 percent from the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, inpatient surgeries were down 16 percent to 16,388.
The type of complex—and expensive—care Northwestern provides also bolsters its finances. Northwestern Memorial Hospital is believed to be the first U.S. facility to perform a lifesaving double-lung transplant on a former COVID-19 patient, and Orsini said there's a "growing list of patients who will be receiving those."
Even as Northwestern refines COVID-era innovations—from telehealth to remote ventilators and double-lung transplants—"we're not stopping our growth agenda," Orsini said, noting that the chain plans to build outpatient sites on land it has purchased throughout the Chicago area and continue "ongoing merger and acquisition discussions."
COVID-19 could make it easier for a strong player like Northwestern to execute a deal, as financially struggling providers look for support from institutions with deeper pockets.
"In this environment there are entities who may not have wanted to align in the past, who may want to align with people in Chicago—whether it be us or others," Orsini said. "We're not going to sit back on our heels, but we're going to continue to look to execute our strategy in the marketplace."
"Financial vital signs looking up at Northwestern" originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.