What happened

Shares of HCA Healthcare (NYSE:HCA) were sinking 17.4% lower as of 11:33 a.m. EDT on Wednesday. The hospital operator didn't report any new developments, but rising worries about the impact of the spread of COVID-19 took a toll on its stock.

So what

There are a couple of ways investors can look at the prospects for HCA in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related stock market crash. The perspective that's more prevalent right now is obviously a pessimistic one. Investors are afraid the number of cases of COVID-19 could overwhelm HCA's hospitals in the coming weeks.

The exterior of a hospital building.

Image source: Getty Images.

To be sure, this scenario is a real possibility. HCA's hospitals, at least in some areas, might not have enough beds to handle the increased number of patients admitted. The company could run into problems related to the lack of critical equipment, especially ventilators. HCA's staff could themselves be infected with the novel coronavirus, contributing to a shortage of qualified healthcare professionals needed to care for patients.

On the other hand, HCA's admissions rates will likely go through the roof. That's one of the most important lead indicators of the company's financial performance. The Trump administration is considering paying hospitals for treating uninsured patients who are diagnosed with COVID-19, so there's a good chance HCA won't bear any significant financial burden from treating uninsured patients with the pandemic raging on.

Now what

While you might think that healthcare stocks such as HCA might be less impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak than others, that hasn't been the case. But hospitals play such a vital role even when there isn't a pandemic going on that HCA's future still appears to be solid.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.