TEXT-Fitch affirms University Health System, Tenn. revs at 'BBB+'

Thu Jan 24, 2013 1:53pm EST

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Jan 24 - Fitch Ratings has affirmed the 'BBB+' rating on $220.7 million
Health Educational and Housing Facility Board of the County of Knox (TN)
(University Health System, Inc.) series 2007 revenue bonds.

The Rating Outlook is Stable.

SECURITY

Debt payments are secured by a pledge of the gross revenues of the obligated
group.

SENSITIVITY/RATING DRIVERS

STRONG MARKET PRESENCE: University Health System (UHS) is the area's only
academic medical center with a regional draw providing tertiary and quaternary
services, some of which are provided exclusively by UHS. UHS was able to
slightly increase its market share despite the recent entrance of for-profit
competition (HMA) in the market.

HISTORICALLY MARGINAL OPERATING PERFORMANCE: Operating performance in fiscal
2011 (year end Dec. 31) with operating margin of 1.6% was slightly stronger than
prior years, but still below Fitch's 'BBB' rating median. Management projects to
end fiscal 2012 with a relatively weak operating margin of 0.7%. The ability to
leverage its close alignment with physicians and a major focus on
standardization should result in stronger operating performance.

END OF LARGE CAPITAL SPENDING: Days cash on hand (DCOH) of 125.7 days at Sept.
30, 2012 and cash to debt equal to 66.3% are weaker than Fitch's 'BBB'
respective rating category medians of 138.9 and 82.7%. However, UHS completed a
major facility update and has no major projects planned for the near term, which
should enable the organization to improve its balance sheet. Capital spending is
projected to be approximately 80% of depreciation expense for the next three
years.

CHALLENGING PAYOR MIX: UHS's payor mix has been stable over time, but TennCare,
Tennessee's thinly funded Medicaid program accounts for a high 17% of gross
revenues. UHS, as an essential access hospital, benefits from TennCare monies
allocated to safety net hospitals and also receives some monies from the
cigarette tax allocated to hospitals with Level I trauma designation.

WHAT COULD TRIGGER A RATING ACTION

NEED TO GENERATE BETTER OPERATING PERFORMANCE: It is Fitch's expectation that
with the completion of UHS's investment in its facility, the organization should
produce a stronger level of operating performance due to its strategic
initiatives, which should ultimately lead to a stronger balance sheet. The
failure to generate operating results more in line with the 'BBB' rating
category medians may lead to negative rating action.

CREDIT PROFILE

UHS operates in a competitive market with its major competition consisting of
Covenant Health (rated 'A' by Fitch) and the recent entrant for-profit Tenova
(subsidiary of HMA), which purchased the former Mercy Health System. UHS was
able to increase its market share slightly to 14% from 13%, the highest of any
individual hospital in the Knoxville market, despite an overall decline in
discharges in the service area. Volumes on the inpatient side declined 1% in
fiscal 2011, after several years of continuous increases, but were 0.6% higher
for the nine-month interim period ended Sept. 30, 2012. Outpatient volumes in
2012 continued to be solid including a 6% increase in outpatient surgeries and
9% increase in emergency department visits. UHS is somewhat insulated from HMA's
entry by virtue of having a medical staff which primarily admits only to UHS.

UHS's maximum annual debt service (MADS) coverage by EBITDA and operating EBITDA
of 2.1 times (x) and 1.7x, respectively, through the nine-month interim period
are adequate, but below the respective category medians of 2.8x and 2.5x (Fitch
includes in the long-term debt and MADS the entire $50 million of the variable
series 2010 bank qualified bond issue, even though UHS's financial statements
reflect only the amounts drawn to date; to date only $0.9 million remains to be
drawn). MADS as a percentage of revenues is elevated at 4.0%, as compared to the
'BBB' category median of 3.3%, and cash to debt at 64% is lower than the
category median of 83%. As UHS completed a major update of its facility and
faces no significant capital needs over the near term, Fitch expects that the
debt load metrics will moderate over time.

UHS has a relatively conservative debt structure with 82% fixed-rate debt. The
variable series 2010 bonds issued as a direct bank purchase have a 2043 final
maturity, but the bank has a right to call the bonds in 2017. Fitch views the
organization's $186 million of unrestricted cash and investments as a sufficient
hedge against this risk. UHS's cash decreased to $186.3 million at Sept. 30,
2012, equal to 125.7 DCOH, from $198.4 million (142.1 DCOH) at 2011 fiscal year
end, primarily as the organization reduced its payables. Fitch notes UHS's
conservative asset allocation with approximately 70% of investments in fixed
income. UHS has one fixed-to-variable-rate swap ($176 million notional par) with
a negative mark-to-market of $0.5 million as of the end of December 2012 and no
collateral posting was required ($10 million threshold).

For fiscal 2011, UHS recorded operating income of $8.7 million (operating margin
of 1.6%), an improvement over the $2.5 million in the prior year (0.5% operating
margin). Fiscal 2011 operating income included $4.5 million of meaningful use
stimulus funds for its investments in an electronic health record. For the
nine-month interim period ended Sept. 30, 2012, UHS reported operating income of
$0.8 million, but management expects to end the year with $4.1 million (0.7%
operating margin) as a further $3.3 million of stimulus funds will be recorded
before fiscal year end.

STABLE OUTLOOK

The Stable Outlook is based on Fitch's expectation that UHS's financial profile
should improve as its major capital investment is complete and operating
improvement initiatives are underway. However, Fitch notes that UHS's financial
profile has historically been weak for its rating level and the failure to
improve performance would likely result in negative rating pressure.

UHS is a 514 staffed-bed academic teaching facility which provides a diverse
array of clinical services to 21 counties in eastern Tennessee. UHS had total
operating revenues of $541 million in fiscal 2011 and covenants to provide
bondholders with annual and quarterly financial disclosure through the Municipal
Securities Rulemaking Board EMMA system. UHS also provides management discussion
and analysis and utilization statistics with their quarterly financials which
management updates on an annual basis. Fitch believes that UHS's disclosure
practices are very good.


Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'. The ratings above
were solicited by, or on behalf of, the issuer, and therefore, Fitch has been
compensated for the provision of the ratings.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
--'Revenue-Supported Rating Criteria', dated June 12, 2012
--'Nonprofit Hospitals and Health Systems, dated July 23, 2012

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
Revenue-Supported Rating Criteria
Nonprofit Hospitals and Health Systems Rating Criteria
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