Community Health Systems — one of the major employers in Middle Tennessee — did better than analysts expected in the first three months of the year, showing some signs of a turnaround. The Franklin-based hospital chain has struggled to turn a profit while paying down a burdensome debt load, a result primarily of acquiring the troubled Florida-based hospital chain Health Management Associates in 2014.
In the first quarter of the year, CHS didn't make money. But it didn't lose nearly as much as in the same period a year ago, according to its first quarter earnings report. The company credits a system-wide cost-cutting initiative that reportedly has even resulted in some layoffs at the hospital chain's headquarters. It has offices in both Cool Springs and Antioch but has not yet notified the state of any job cuts.
"During the first few months of the year, we expanded our transfer and access program, launched Accountable Care Organizations, and invested in both outpatient capabilities and service line enhancements across our markets," CEO Wayne Smith said in a statement. "These efforts helped drive a good financial performance during the first quarter and position the Company for further anticipated improvements during the balance of 2018."
CHS is feeling some pushback, though. A group of physicians at a CHS hospital in Indiana has been disgruntled for more than a year. And they wrote an op-ed this week, saying tight staffing levels and the departure of seasoned nurses will eventually lead to safety problems. They also wrote that it's hard to tell whether CHS is in recovery mode or "a slow motion train wreck."
But analysts applauded management for the quarter's financial performance, while noting that the only way the hospital chain will survive is if it can also turn around the declining number of patients it's treating — a trend that's persisted for two years.