Report: Most of America’s hospital beds are already occupied

Anthony Vecchione//March 20, 2020

Report: Most of America’s hospital beds are already occupied

Anthony Vecchione//March 20, 2020

Nearly two-thirds of America’s estimated 728,000 hospital beds may already be occupied according to a report issued Thursday by the Urban Institute, with funding from Princeton-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The analysis estimates that in 2018, the United States had 728,000 medical and surgical hospital beds available to the public, or 2.2 hospital beds per 1,000 population. However, only 36 percent of these beds were unoccupied on a typical day, leaving just 0.8 unoccupied beds per 1,000 people.

The analysis shows that the availability of unoccupied beds per 1,000 people varies significantly across urban and rural areas, states and counties across the country.

Findings from this brief, along with a new interactive county-level map, can assist policymakers and local officials in identifying regions and hospitals with the greatest capacity constraints when treating COVID-19 patients.

“As federal, state and local policymakers prepare for large increases in demand for inpatient hospital care, they need to understand the variation in bed capacity across states and communities—which will likely not match the spread of the virus,” said Kathy Hempstead, senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Now is the time to identify contingency plans.”

According to the report, across the nation, concerns are mounting that the need for hospital beds will overwhelm national capacity as the outbreak of COVID-19 expands, putting severe strains on the health care system and limiting patient access to necessary care.

On Wednesday, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli announced the state would work with Inspira Health Network to bring a decommissioned facility back online, to address such concerns.

Report authors cite expert recommendations to improve capacity such as creating internal rapid-response groups; transferring equipment to essential units like ICUs; categorizing and prioritizing non-COVID-19-related patient caseloads; cancelling elective surgeries; speeding the discharge of patients well enough to leave; using naval and military aid to meet civilian needs; and utilizing alternative spaces such as halls, conference rooms, and amphitheaters to increase physical capacity.