HCA Healthcare sees elective procedures rebound as staffing woes ease
Jan 27 (Reuters) - HCA Healthcare Inc's (HCA.N) management on Friday forecast lower labor costs and a recovery in non-urgent procedures for 2023 as staffing trends improved following an exodus of nurses during the pandemic.
The commentary helped shares of the largest U.S. for-profit hospital operator reverse course to climb as much as 2%. Rivals Tenet Healthcare (THC.N) and Universal Health Services (UHS.N) also rose 2% and 1%.
HCA has seen the rate of staff exits fall to around 18% from the mid-twenties last year, but it is still higher than pre-pandemic levels, Chief Executive Samuel Hazen said in an investor conference call.
Millions of people left their jobs during a prolonged pandemic, in what was dubbed "The Great Resignation", and the nationwide shortage of healthcare staff kept hospital operators from resuming high-margin elective procedures at full pace.
"We have been able to recover some of the employees who traveled for a period of time back into our organization," Hazen said. Non-urgent procedure volumes are now expected to go back to normal.
The hospital operator saw hiring of nurses increase by about 6% last year, with many new graduates and some returnees.
HCA's stock had fallen earlier in the day after the company's 2023 profit view of $16.40 to $17.60 per share missed market estimates. It had also flagged a hit to revenue from the rolling back of certain COVID-19 government support programs.
Stephens analyst Scott Fidel said HCA's additional planned investment of $150 million for this year, partly for the expansion of nursing schools, was the main driver of the miss.
"I think, relative to our model, the one primary difference that we had not anticipated was the additional investments."
Excluding one-off items, HCA reported a profit of $4.64 per share, below analysts' average estimate of $4.78, according to Refinitiv IBES.
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