Hospitals Scramble To Offer Telehealth, Home Services Amid Covid-19

Reduced demand for lucrative elective procedures is forcing hospital systems to merge or partner up to augment other services that have boomed during the pandemic. 

By Sydney Halleman

Hospital systems are turning to joint ventures and other types of partnerships to add high-demand services quickly and efficiently. 

Telehealth, home health and out-patient services, which have increased in popularity as patients look to avoid in-patient hospital care, are in particular demand, industry experts say. 

“You may have capabilities, you have the technology, you may have the machinery, access to medicines and everything else,” says Anu Singh, managing director of healthcare consultant Kaufman Hall. “But do [hospital systems] have the actual staff to operate in that environment? If you don’t, that’s probably a good sign that a joint venture would make sense.”  

At Allegheny Health Network, plummeting elective visits and in-person patient volume led to a $116 million first-half operating loss, so its Pittsburgh-based parent company Highmark Health is looking to ramp up its joint venture partnerships for home health and hospice services, the company said. 

LHC Group and University Health Care System in Georgia forged a JV in August for in-home health and hospice services. In West Virginia, hospitals run by Mon Health and Stonerise Healthcare paired up to establish a home health agency.  

“We’re seeing interest in different types of relationships,” says Nora Kelly, managing director with Kaufman Hall. “It’s acquisition of practices but also more creativity around joint ventures and clinical relationships and other things.”  

Selling partial stakes can also generate a considerable amount of “flexible dollars” and offload operating costs, says David Morlock, a managing director at Cain Brothers and a senior banker for the firm’s Health Systems M&A Group.  

“Systems can simultaneously boost their bottom line, raise capital, and maintain strategic linkage to the full continuum of care by selling partial stakes in their ancillary businesses to outside partners,” Morlock says. 

Home care and hospice, labs, urgent care, and senior housing are the most common examples.  

Hospital M&A activity was strong at the start of the second quarter, but deals between hospital systems halted once the coronavirus stalled elective procedures, says Torrey McClary, a healthcare partner at law firm King & Spalding.  

But in recent months, hospital M&A has come back more strongly than expected. One large healthcare deal in the second quarter signals a rising tide of activity: the buyout of Steward Health Care from Cerberus Capital Management

“There is a sense that things are stabling out and that people are ready to resume these conversations and look for strategic opportunities in the markets,” McClary says.  

Sydney Halleman is a healthcare reporter for Mergermarket.

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