PHILADELPHIA - United Hospitals Inc., which analysts said was just months from fiscal collapse last year, announced yesterday it expects to register at least $11.6 million in profits for fiscal 1992.
The turnaround -- which comes on the heels of an expected loss of $14.3 million for fiscal 1991, which ended June 30 -- was unvelled yesterday to a small group of institutional investors by Allegheny Health Services Inc., United's new parent.
The vastly improved results for United are even better than preliminary estimates released just weeks ago, when hospital officials said this year's profit would be about $5 million.
Irene Thompson, the regional chief financial officer for Allegheny, said the difference is attributable to several adjustments made to the estimates, including the incorporation of recently awarded increases in Medicaid reimbursement rates for St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, by far the most profitable and prestigious of the system's four hospitals.
Sherif S. Abdelhak, Allegheny's president and chief executive officers, said yesterday that the company, based in Pittsburgh, has been trying to acquire the Philadelphia-based St. Christopher's for several years, but was stymied by the facility's ties to United's weaker hospitals.
At one point, Allegheny even offered United $75 million for St. Christopher's, but United found it was unable to tear it apart from its relationships to other system hospitals, Mr. Abdelhak said.
In January, however, after studying the Philadelphia market in depth, Allegheny concluded that the other hospitals had strategic advantages, and the company announced a new alliance with United, he said.
Mr. Abdelhak said Allegheny determined it could not operate in Philadelphia with the same strategy it uses in the Pittsburgh region. "In Philadelphia, you have to own the referral system, rather than just serve it," he said. The other hospitals in the United system will help achieve that goal by expanding Allegheny's reach in the region.
The January affiliation announcement -- though heartening to what had become an increasingly desperate band of United bondholders -- sparked a disclosure controversy at the time. Allegheny General Hospital sold $60 million of bonds three days before the announcement without mentioning its parent company's new relationship to United. But Allegheny has taken pains to assure bondholders that none of United's debt will be assumed by any Allegheny entity, and Mr. Abdelhak stressed that point again yesterday.
Allegheny has, however, guaranteed a $25 million line of credit for United, which has so far drawn about $4.1 million of it. United has "no intention" of drawing down the full amount, Mr. Abdelhak said yesterday. And he stressed that the credit line is not the responsibility of any of the obligated groups.
Extending the line of credit was "my way of telling the banks to stay away from me" while Allegheny works to turn around United, Mr. Abdelhak said.
As part of that effort, the system has been restructured and incorporated under the Allegheny umbrella.
The Medical College of Pennsylvania and Allegheny General Hospital each comprise separate obligated groups. St. Christopher's and Allegheny United Hospitals Inc. -- a group of three hospitals -- form a third, four-hospital group.
Under the new structure, Allegheny will take numerous steps to consolidate and utilize its new economies of scale. The stronger facilities will then gradually break away from unprofitable relationships with health maintenance organizations that have been sapping revenues for several years, Mr. Abdelhak said.
Allegheny has already fired 220 United employees and instituted other personnel changes expected to contribute $9.5 million in savings this year.
Another $9 million is expected to come from the higher reimbursement levels for St. Christopher's. United has been trying for several years to secure the higher level, but it was not until the affiliation with Allegheny that the state agreed to the change.
Fiscal 1991 losses are higher than previously announced, because Allegheny took several one-time charges designed to put more money into reserves, Mr. Abdelhak said. United "lived on the edge" before Allegheny arrived by budgeting reserves that counted on extremely optimistic financial scenarios that ultimately never materialized, he added.
Mr. Abdelhak said he is so sure the changes that Allegheny's leadership has instituted will be successful, that "if the [United] bonds are selling at anything less than face value, we will buy as many of them as are available."
Market sources say the bonds are still trading below par, but legal consideratons would probably interfere with Mr. Abdelhak's promise if United bondholders tried to take him up on it.
United has $135 million in bonds outstanding.