Rise in Days of Care Buoys VITAS During Pandemic

Like most health care providers, VITAS Healthcare is feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the company appears to be riding out the storm based on its first quarter results. 

VITAS saw 10.1% increase in hospice revenues from prior year during Q1, with increased days of care as a prime contributor. VITAS is a subsidiary of Chemed Corp. (NYSE: CHEM), which also owns Roto-Rooter. 

“We saw degradation in the referral and admission patterns, but with that being said, it’s not large. It’s not catastrophic. We are ready and available, and educated and safe, to respond to those patients needs, respond to the family needs and bring them on to service appropriately,” Chemed President and CEO Kevin McNamara in an earnings conference call. “We’ve been really proud of the team as we navigated slightly lower referral volumes, but but nothing dramatic at this stage.”

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VITAS brought in $338 million during the first quarter of 2020. A 5.9% increase in hospice days of care drove these results, along with a geographically weighted average Medicare reimbursement rate increase of approximately 5%, as well as an acuity mix shift.

VITAS saw a gross margin of 23.8% during Q1, a 108-basis point margin improvement compared to the prior year’s quarter. The company saw a 4.7% rise in its average daily census, and admissions rose 4.8%. Net income was up 2.7%

“This admission performance is a result of our collective organization striving to improve all aspects of our ability to differentiate VITAS and efficiently serve the patients, families and referral sources in each of the communities where we operate,” said VITAS CEO Nick Westfall, in the earnings call. “The need to be the best partner in the communities we serve is only amplified during this pandemic.”

Navigating relationships with referral partners, including hospitals, physician practices, home health, nursing facilities and other sources has become increasingly complex for hospices during the pandemic due to widespread disruption in the health care space. Many hospice providers have seen difficulties accessing their patients in the home, nursing home and hospital settings due to patient anxieties about potential exposure to the virus as well as restrictions as to who can enter health care facilities. 

Westfall indicted that coordination and communication with referral partners and other institutions that house their patients has helped reduce the impact of these factors on VITAS operations. 

“The approach is specific to the market and the partner, whether a hospital, nursing home, assisted living facility or physician practice. Each are uniquely navigating how this pandemic has impacted their ability to service their communities,” Westfall said. “For the most part, we’ve been successful working with our nursing home and facility partners to continue to access these locations. We are similarly working with our partners to remind them we will adjust in lockstep to help support them to receive care for eligible patients as we plan for the new normal.”

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