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U.S. Hospital Beds Were Maxed Out Before Pandemic

THURSDAY, March 26, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Many hospitals across the United States regularly operate with most of their beds taken by patients, limiting their ability to handle a sudden influx of folks sick with COVID-19, a new study reports.

Only about 1 of every 3 U.S. hospital beds is empty on any given day, according to research from the Urban Institute, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“All indications show if the curve is not flattened, hospitals across the country will not have the capacity to deal with the surge in hospitalizations associated with COVID-19,” said study author Fredric Blavin, a principal research associate with the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center.

That may already be happening in New York City, the current epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 epidemic. Many city hospitals are already overwhelmed, The New York Times reported Thursday.

At Elmhurst Hospital Center, a 545-bed public hospital, doctors and nurses have only a few dozen ventilators for their patients, some of whom have died while waiting for a bed. A refrigerated truck has been stationed outside the hospital to hold the dead, the newspaper reported.

That might happen anywhere in the country. According to Blavin’s report, the United States had about 728,000 medical and surgical hospital beds available to the public in 2018, or 2.2 beds for every 1,000 people, Blavin and his colleagues found.

But only 36% of those beds were available on a typical day, leaving just 0.8 empty beds available per 1,000 people.


Stretched capacity

The states with the lowest available hospital capacity include Connecticut (24% unoccupied beds), Nevada (28%) and Massachusetts (26%), Blavin said.

“We also found states right now that are dealing with the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the U.S. — Washington, California and New York — also have significant capacity constraints,” Blavin added.

New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, only has about 23% of its hospital beds available on average, the researchers found. Washington and California both have about 35% of their hospital beds available.





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