The long-term financial stability of hospital systems represents a “grand challenge” in health care. New ownership forms, such as private equity (PE), promise to achieve better financial performance than nonprofit or for-profit systems. In this study, we compare two systems with many similarities, but radically different ownership structures, missions, governance, and merger and acquisition (M&A) strategies. Both were nonprofit, religious systems serving low-income communities – Montefiore Health System and Caritas Christi Health Care.
Montefiore's M&A strategy was to invest in local hospitals and create an integrated regional system, increasing revenues by adding primary doctors and community hospitals as feeders into the system and achieving efficiencies through effective resource allocation across specialized units. Slow and steady timing of acquisitions allowed for organizational learning and balancing of debt and equity. By 2019, it owned 11 hospitals with 40,000 employees and had strong positive financials and low reliance on debt.
By contrast, in 2010, PE firm Cerberus Capital bought out Caritas (renamed Steward Health Care System) and took control of the Board of Directors, who set the system's strategic direction. Cerberus used Steward as a platform for a massive debt-driven acquisition strategy. In 2016, it sold off most of its hospitals’ property for $1.25 billion, leaving hospitals saddled with long-term inflated leases; paid itself almost $500 million in dividends; and used the rest for leveraged buyouts of 27 hospitals in 9 states in 3 years. The rapid, scattershot M&A strategy was designed to create a large corporation that could be sold off in five years for financial gain – not for health care integration. Its debt load exploded, and by 2019, its financials were deeply in the red. Its Massachusetts hospitals were the worst financial performers of any system in the state. Cerberus exited Steward in 2020 in a deal that left its physicians, the new owners, holding the debt.
We would like to thank the Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust for financial support for this project. We also thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Institute for New Economic Thinking for prior funding of this project. This research benefited greatly from interviews with health care professionals, industry experts, and union representatives who gave generously of their time to provide information and insights.
La France, A., Batt, R. and Appelbaum, E. (2021), "Hospital Ownership and Financial Stability: A Matched Case Comparison of a Nonprofit Health System and a Private Equity–Owned Health System", Hefner, J.L. and Nembhard, I.M. (Ed.) The Contributions of Health Care Management to Grand Health Care Challenges (Advances in Health Care Management, Vol. 20), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 173-220. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1474-823120210000020007
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