The financial health of Pennsylvania's hospitals was declining even before the worst of the recession hit, according to a new report from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

The report released on Friday, which covered fiscal year 2007-08, found that both operating and total margins fell that year.

Operating margins dropped from 4.82 percent to 3.98 percent. They had been rising since fiscal 2004. Total margins, which include investment income or losses, grew from 2.19 percent in 2002 to 6.56 percent in 2007, but fell to 4.7 percent in fiscal 2008.

Fifty-one hospitals - 30 percent of the 169 hospitals that reported data - had negative total margins, up from 42 in fiscal 2007.

The council's report said inpatient discharges remained steady, while the number of days it took to collect accounts rose slightly, from 43.7 to 44.3, after dropping for eight years.

Locally, Main Line Health's Paoli Hospital was an unusually strong performer, with an operating margin of 21.26 percent.

Several of the region's for-profit hospitals, whose financial calculations include taxes, were in negative territory.

Among some of the large academic medical centers, operating margins were negative 5 percent at Hahnemann University Hospital, which is for-profit; 10.88 percent at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, negative 1.75 percent at Temple University Hospital, and 4.21 percent at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.