After posting a $14 million loss for the past year, Bristol Hospital’s parent company indicated this week that it will be considering potential partnerships or mergers with larger health care organizations more strongly than ever.
President Kurt Barwis emphasized at its annual meeting Tuesday that the hospital has plenty of cash to keep operating, but acknowledged that the loss — following $3.4 million in red ink the year before — is troubling.
Outpatient visits for the year were up more than 13%, and physician office visits rose from about 153,000 to 157,000.
But nearly all other metrics were down for the year: The hospital had fewer admissions, fewer emergency room visits and hosted fewer surgeries than in 2020.
Barwis said much of the disappointing financial performance was caused by COVID-19 keeping patients from doing regular, scheduled appointments and wellness checkups.
While patient demand was down, competition for hospital workers was up sharply. That forced Bristol and other hospitals and medical facilities across Connecticut to pay substantial wage premiums.
“The resurgence of the pandemic affected labor costs,” board Treasurer Louis Auletta Jr. told the meeting.
Barwis said nearly $6 million of the loss will be made up this year with the receipt of federal aid that was intended to cover costs in 2021.
“Simply stated we are able to operate despite the losses because we are still receiving grants that offset those losses, and we still have more than $10 million in Medicare Advance funds/loans from Medicare,” he said.
With 1,700 employees, Bristol Hospital is one of fewer than 10 independent hospitals in the state. Most are wings of the major groups: Hartford HealthCare, Yale, Trinity or Nuvance.
This month, Yale said it is looking to acquire Waterbury, Rockville and Manchester hospitals.
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Barwis emphasized that the board of directors’ partnership committee makes all decisions about alliances, mergers or similar moves, and said it has been reviewing options regularly for the past 15 years.
If the hospital’s finances were stronger, the Yale move wouldn’t necessarily influence Bristol Hospital’s future, he said.
“(But) sustaining in a time of strong headwinds and uncertainty means that the Partnership Committee must access all of the opportunities that avail themselves,” he said.
“As an accountant it is particularly difficult for me — and I’m sure for you, to look at our financial results of operations and not be concerned by the last two years,” he said.
Bristol was one of several Connecticut hospitals poised to be acquired by Texas-based Tenet Healthcare a decade ago. But after two years of regulatory review, the for-profit hospital company abandoned the deal in 2014.
Bristol then announced a partial alliance with Yale, and has since partnered with other organizations for its wound center and its new geriatric behavioral health unit.
Bristol Health, the parent of Bristol Hospital, employs about 1,700 workers at the hospital, the Ingraham Manor nursing home, its EMS unit and its Multi-Specialty Group physicians network.