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S&P, Moody's Give Atlantic Health System Highest Health System Rating in NJ

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MORRISTOWN, NJ - Atlantic Health System, a leading health care delivery system in New Jersey, is once again the highest-rated New Jersey based system rated by credit agencies Moody’s and S&P.

Moody’s raised its rating for the health care organization from A1 to Aa3, the highest rating among all health care systems in New Jersey, with an outlook of “stable.” The rating upgrade reflects Atlantic Health System’s continued stability of operating performance and financial growth of the balance sheet, as well as its favorable market position and the “wide array” of services it provides.

S&P affirmed its “AA-“ rating for Atlantic Health System due to its strong presence in the region and increased system diversity among its six hospitals and a network of community-based physicians throughout northern and central New Jersey. Along with only one other organization, this is the highest rating given to health systems in NJ by S&P. Atlantic Health System’s outlook with S&P remained stable.

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The ratings actions by both agencies put the system in a favorable position to leverage its credit strength and allows the system to issue or refinance its debt at more favorable interest rates. Atlantic Health System may pay less on interest on its bonds and allow the organization to invest more of its money in patient care initiatives, including technology, skilled staff and infrastructure.

“These ratings further demonstrate the value of developing our connections to the communities we serve through wise growth, investment in innovation and continuously improving care, said Kevin Lenahan, senior vice president and Chief Financial and Administrative Officer for Atlantic Health System. “The rating upgrade puts us on even better footing to fulfill the health care needs of our communities.”

Moody’s also highlighted Atlantic Health System’s ability to reach agreements in many of its host communities on fair-share community contributions in response to municipalities’ review of the tax-exempt status of hospitals and other facilities.

“A key credit strength of the system speaks to management's ability to navigate recent state and local budget challenges quickly and proactively,” Moody’s said in its rating.

S&P highlighted “AHS’ focus is on continued development of population health infrastructure and strategies to drive growth to the organization.” This includes increased integration between owned and independent hospitals, Atlantic Medical Group, community based physicians, and payers.

The credit agencies noted the following among the reasons for Atlantic Health System’s enviable ratings and outlook:

  • -- Atlantic Health System is a large multi-site organization with more than $2.5 billion in revenue and 100,000 total admissions (including observation stays and admissions)
  • -- The strong presence of the system in the region, including the growth of the system. The agencies noted the acquisition of Hackettstown Medical Center in April 2016, as well as Atlantic Health System’s participation in the Mid Jersey Health Alliance with Hunterdon Healthcare System, which coordinates care and offers expanded clinical services in Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer, and Warren counties
  • -- The rapid growth and increased integration of Atlantic Medical Group, which now includes more than 900 community-based physicians and other providers
  • -- Continued growth in operating margins, cash measures and debt leverage measures

S&P noted Atlantic Health System’s significant additions of several key leadership roles covering patient experience, integrated care delivery, and innovations and technology following the addition of President and CEO Brian Gragnolati in 2015. The agency also highlighted Gragnolati recently being named chair-elect designate of the American Hospital Association. He will assume the board chairmanship in 2019.

Among other successes reported to the credit agencies has been the performance of the two accountable care organizations (ACOs) affiliated with Atlantic Health System – Atlantic ACO and Optimus Healthcare Partners. Both ACOs produced shared savings for Medicare.

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