Report details Nevada hospitals' woes

RENO -- About two-thirds of Nevada general hospitals lost money in the third quarter of 2011, despite cost-cutting measures over the past few years, according to the latest report on the financial condition of the state's health care system.

The report, obtained by the Reno Gazette-Journal, shows that 20 of the state's 33 hospitals lost money in the quarter. Specialty hospitals such as rehabilitation or psychiatric centers are not included.

"That would be a disaster in any industry and it's a bit of a disaster here," said Dwight Hansen, financial director for the Nevada Hospital Association.

Hospitals around Reno and Carson City reported losses of $29.3 million, while hospitals around Las Vegas posted a $45.7 million combined loss in the third quarter of last year, according to data from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas-based Center for Health Care Information Analysis.

Rural hospitals had a combined $52.7 million profit, but that total was largely driven by Elko, which is enjoying a gold-mining boom, analysts said.

Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital in Elko, for example, made about $58 million in the first nine months of last year from paying patients.

Nationally, about half of all general hospitals have been losing money for the last four years, according to federal statistics.

Hospitals are sinking beneath multiple burdens, including fewer paying patients, more uninsured patients and dwindling Medicare reimbursements.

While third-quarter losses -- which are seasonal -- can be expected, hospital financial officers said their main concern is losses that stem from fewer paying patients.

The ratio of paying to nonpaying patients is expected to get worse, especially in Nevada, which has the nation's highest unemployment and foreclosure rates.

"All hospitals have cut back on expenses, and despite tremendous cutbacks, so many fail to make a profit," Hansen said. "The costs of uncompensated care are growing. So many people are losing their jobs, losing their insurance."

That means people often wait to seek care until the late and more expensive stages of an illness, he said.

"And then when you do seek care, where do you go? A hospital," Hansen said, adding some urban hospitals won't be able to survive if the trend continues.