The Ensign Group has returned another $23 million in federal coronavirus relief funding after achieving another “record quarter,” executives reported Thursday. 

Ensign Group CEO Barry Port

“As we said last quarter, we take the responsibility that comes from receiving revenues, which are largely funded by American taxpayers, very seriously,” CEO Barry Port said during a third-quarter earnings call. In August, the operator announced it had returned about $109 million in relief funds.

“When we consider our healthy balance sheet and liquidity, which we have taken great care to protect and when we reflect on the financial performance during the pandemic, we decided not to accept any [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act funds,” he added. 

The move comes as Ensign touted record earnings for the third quarter in a row. The company reported that its earnings per share was 78 cents for the quarter — a 95% increase over the prior year quarter. It’s adjusted net income for the quarter was about $44 million — a nearly 95% increase compared to last year. 

“The strong results came from quarter-over-quarter improvements in skilled mix across the portfolio, improved admission trends, availability of more frequent and broader COVID testing, increased managed care revenues, cost-saving initiatives, improved collections, (Medicare) sequestration suspension and improved Medicaid rates,” Port said. 

He added that its local leadership teams continue to make “clinical and operational improvements that are tailored to conditions they face in their local markets.” Port explained that operations have continued to see an increase in the number of higher acuity patients, which includes COVID-19 patients and increases in managed care patients. 

Ensign facilities had a total of 207 confirmed COVID-19 patients in-house as of Oct. 14. Eight of its facilities had more than 20 positive cases, 48 facilities had fewer than 20 cases, and 161 facilities had no confirmed cases in-house. The company has a total of 217 skilled nursing operations. 

The company also saw its combined same store and transitioning occupancy decline 2.4% during the quarter, while its skilled mix increased by 2.9%. 

“After living in the COVID environment now for two-and-a-half quarters, we are encouraged by the recent strength in occupancies. If there is another in COVID during the fourth quarter or in 2021, we are confident that lower occupancies will be offset by higher skilled mix,” Port said. 

Port explained that a vast majority of the declines occurred in early July, especially in areas with high coronavirus positivity rates, but occupancy has since stabilized.  

“While occupancies are lower than they were a year ago at this time, our results this quarter demonstrate again the resilience of our model and the local leaders’ ability to adapt to changing circumstances in their local healthcare markets,” Port said. 

“While the further of this pandemic remains unclear, we are confident that our local leaders, caregivers and other frontline staff will continue to provide amazing service to their patients, families and our society as a whole,” he added.