Severe strain on health systems will overwhelm hospitals’ capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.
As COVID-19 spreads across the United States, concerns mount that the need for hospital beds will overwhelm national capacity, putting severe strains on the health care system and limiting access to necessary care. As federal, state, and local policymakers prepare for a potentially very large increase in demand for inpatient hospital care, they must understand how existing bed capacity varies across states and communities.
Using data from the 2018 American Hospital Association Annual Survey, which collects extensive data on topics including hospital organization structure, facilities and services, and utilization from 6,500 U.S. hospitals, researchers find that availability of unoccupied beds per 1,000 people varies significantly across urban and rural areas, states, and counties across the country.
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.
Only 36 percent of these beds were unoccupied on a typical day, leaving just 0.8 unoccupied beds per 1,000 people.
Findings from this brief, along with the 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. This will help federal, state, and local policymakers considering ways to generate surge capacity in identifying areas with the greatest need for additional inpatient beds.
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.
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