Reduced Number of Available Hospital Beds Could Leave California Hospitals in ‘Capacity Crunch’
Several medical centers in California are experiencing a shortage of hospital beds, and the "capacity crunch" could soon have a negative impact on patient care, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, the statewide occupancy rate of hospital beds rose to 64% last year, marking a steady increase since 1996, and some hospitals are operating at occupancies above 85%, the rate that experts consider to be "essentially full." The bed shortage has caused delays in elective surgery, resulted in the diversion of patients to other facilities and added to the "backlog" in emergency rooms. Although most of the effects of the shortage have been "matters of inconvenience rather than life and death," experts say that a lasting scarcity of beds could hurt patient care, especially as the state's population ages. "We're going to experience a fairly substantial 50-year population growth and a major growth in seniors. We will have to have additional capacity," Wanda Jones, president of the research foundation New Century Healthcare Institute, said.
A combination of economic and social factors have contributed to the state's hosptial bed shortage. California's population is growing at a faster rate than that of the nation as a whole, and the aging of baby boomers also has led to a rise in demand for hospital services. Hospital usage and the length of hospital stays have increased in conjunction with the easing of restrictions under managed care. The state also has experienced a large number of hospital closures; more than 100 community hospitals in California have closed over the past 20 years. Many of the hospitals "collapsed under financial pressure from managed care," Medicare reimbursement cuts and "too much competition," the Times reports. Although few new hospitals are being constructed in the state, several facilities are planning large expansions with additional beds. Some hospitals have responded to bed shortages by installing "sophisticated" bed tracking systems, adjusting surgery hours and developing plans to perform more procedures on an outpatient basis. However, many hospitals cannot afford to make major adjustments because they are already spending "hundreds of millions of dollars" to meet seismic retrofitting requirements, the Times reports. Health professionals also question whether additional beds would solve the problem, because California's nursing shortage would prevent many facilities from meeting state-mandated staffing ratios. Some hospitals are seeking out less costly alternatives to help ease the shortage. For example, Sutter Health, which operates 26 hospitals in Northern California, said it will focus on outpatient facilities and boost its ambulatory care departments rather than add beds (Lee, Los Angeles Times, 6/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.