Hospital occupancy in South Carolina dropped in 2012, and so did the amount of money hospitals made delivering patient care that year, but overall profitability was up, according to data posted on a new niche website that the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services debuted Monday.

As an example, Medical University Hospital lost $43.3 million on patient services in 2012, compared to a $25.7 million loss in 2011, but still made more money overall in 2012, even though its inpatient occupancy rate dropped a percentage point between those two years. In other words, the hospital, like others in South Carolina, treated fewer inpatients, but still made more money.

"Hospitals make their money from lots of different ways - one is delivering patient care," said Tony Keck, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, commonly called the Medicaid agency. "They also make money from their investment portfolio. Some of these hospitals are very large foundations that have hundreds of millions of dollars under management."

Medical University Hospital Executive Director Pat Cawley said recent profits may also be attributed to cutting operating costs in anticipation of health care reform.

"We've been working very hard over the past three years, particularly over the past 18 months, to decrease costs," Cawley said. "We have to do that if we want MUSC to survive."

Between 2008 and 2012, only 15 hospitals in the state posted an aggregate loss, according to data posted on the new website. Most made millions of dollars in profits, including Trident Health in North Charleston, which posted a $284.5 million profit over those five years. That's nearly more than any other hospital in the state.

Trident Health trailed only McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, which made a $346 million profit during the same time frame.

All this financial data is available on the department's new website, called www.schealthdata.org. It offers a detailed financial profile for 60 South Carolina hospitals, including statistics on occupancy rates, annual revenue and five-year profitability. Like other health care transparency websites, including Medicare's Hospital Compare and the South Carolina Hospital Association's MY SC Hospital, the SC Health Data website is intended to shed more light on numbers that are technically public information, but can difficult for consumers to find or understand.

"That's all not exactly consumer-friendly data, but it's important for decision making," Keck said. He said the department intends to enhance the site later this spring with information on hospital-specific charges and costs for many common procedures.

Making health care costs more transparent can be complex, but that's information that patients can use to make better decisions about where they should do business, said Hospital Association President Thorton Kirby, who attended the press briefing about the new website.

"Our state's hospital leaders believe that South Carolinians should have the information they need to understand the health care system and to make better decisions concerning their own health care," Kirby said. "That is why we are working with the Department of Health and Human Services to make information available."

Patients want more transparency and making this information available is a step in the right direction, Cawley said.

"Sometimes, though, it's hard to explain some of these things," he said. "The way we finance health care, the way we measure some things in health care, it can be very difficult to explain. It's incumbent for us to put it out there, but to put it out there in a way that the public understands."

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.