Hospitals & Facilities

Universal Health Services targets behavioral health bed occupancy growth

The company is one of the largest providers of behavioral health services in the country.
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One of the country’s largest providers of behavioral health services is aiming to increase its behavioral health bed occupancy.

Executives at Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services (UHS) told investors in an earnings call in October that they’re looking to improve staff recruitment and retention, as well as expand service lines.

“Increasing occupancy is the most significant opportunity we see in our behavioral business in a business where pricing has been strong,” UHS’s EVP and CFO Steve Filton said during the call. “What Q3 reflects is that cost controls have been improving. We’ve been reducing contract labor; we’ve been reducing overtime.”

Net revenue from behavioral health services on a same-facility basis totaled $1.51 billion for Q3 ending on September 30, up from $1.41 billion in the previous year’s Q3, according to UHS. Over the quarter, adjusted admissions at UHS behavioral health care facilities increased by 0.8% on a same-facility basis, according to the company.

Behavioral health staffing, however, has been a “continuing issue” for UHS despite increased hiring rates and decreased turnover, Filton said. Staffing became a bigger issue for the company during Q2 2023, which is when new nursing graduates enter the workforce and need training, he added.

“Those [staffing] metrics, as they continue to get better, will drive greater volumes,” Filton said.

While there’s a growing demand for behavioral health services, staff retention and recruitment remains challenging. Some organizations attribute this to a lack of quality applicants and competitive wages, Healthcare Brew previously reported.

UHS is also looking to expand its telehealth, outpatient, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) services for addiction care, Filton added.

MAT services—which use methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone in addition to behavioral therapy—is considered the “gold standard” of treatment for opioid use disorder, according to the National Health Law Program. Opioid use disorder treatment accounts for nearly 8% of all hospital expenditures, which adds up to approximately $95.4 billion each year, Healthcare Brew previously reported.

While UHS already has a “pretty broad continuum of care,” Filton said increasing services will help expand its payer mix.

“There’s a handful of important initiatives in behavioral, but all I think would fall under this umbrella of being able to increase occupancy,” Filton said.

UHS is not the only behavioral health provider looking to increase volumes. Tennessee-based Acadia Healthcare aims to add about 300 behavioral health beds each year amid a national shortage of psych beds, Behavioral Health Business reported in September.

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