VITAS, the hospice subsidiary of Chemed Corp. (NYSE: CHE), continues to achieve financial growth despite seeing a drop in median patient length of stay and a reduction in high acuity services, such as general inpatient care and continuous home care.
The pandemic has led to a drop in referrals from nursing homes and assisted living facilities due to fears of spreading COVID-19. Those facilities have severely limited access to their patients and residents during the outbreak and have also seen lower volume of resident move-ins because of the pandemic.
Patients in nursing homes and assisted living tend to see longer lengths of stay than individuals referred by other providers such as hospitals and physician practices. The shift in the mix of patients based on referral sources is what brought down VITAS length-of-stay numbers, even though the company’s admissions rose during the third quarter.
“The long term care market, specifically nursing homes and assisted living facilities, continue to be impacted as they work to safely navigate serving the residents during the pandemic,” Nick Westfall, president and CEO of VITAS Healthcare said in a Chemed earnings conference call. “[Average daily census] growth is expected to normalize over the coming quarters as we return to pre-pandemic referral patterns across all sectors of the health care industry.”
The nursing home sector has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. As of Oct. 13, more than 280,000 confirmed infections have occured in nursing homes, along with more than 150,000 suspected cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. These have led to nearly 62,000 deaths.
Consequently VITAS has received fewer referrals in the third quarter from nursing homes and assisted living, by 22.6% and 13.5% respectively. However, referrals from hospitals and physician offices were up during the period.
The median patient length of stay dropped to 14 days, down from 17 in Q3 2019. While this did reduce revenues, the company still yielded positive financial results.
VITAS brought in $337 million in net patient revenue during the third quarter of 2020, representing a 4.8% increase over the prior year’s quarter. The company saw a 4.7% rise in admissions, but a slight decline in average daily census of 0.2%.
Though no one knows when the pandemic will subside, VITAS expects nursing home and assisted living referrals to pick back up when those facilities are able to resume normal operations.
“None of us can predict when patient flow into nursing homes is going to come back to pre-pandemic levels, or if it ever would,” Westfall said. “The pent-up demand for accessing nursing homes and the assisting living market also opens up hospice demand. The one thing I think we found inside of the pandemic, our nursing homes and assisted living [referrers] are really now more than ever paying attention to their hospice partners in the local communities, and they really want to provide access to those that have scale and have the ability to provide care in a safe manner.”