While voicing optimism for future improvement, Standard & Poor’s last week downgraded Ministry Health Care’s underlying rating to A-plus from AA-minus, citing recent fiscal operating challenges.

“Despite the challenges the organization has faced with patient volumes at its St. Claire’s Hospital and staffing, we expect that Ministry will continue its recent favorable operating trend and return to positive operating margins beginning in fiscal 2008,” analyst Brian Williamson said.

The current rating level reflects the system’s solid combined market position of 50%, its improving operations that posted maximum annual debt service coverage of 2.8 times as of the end of fiscal 2007, and an experienced and stable management team. The improvements follow negative operating margins in fiscal years 2006 and 2007. Ministry carries $427 million of outstanding debt.

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