This post was originally published here (Urban Institute Research)
Across the nation, concerns are mounting that the need for hospital beds will overwhelm national capacity as the COVID-19 outbreak expands, putting severe strains on the health care system and limiting patient access to necessary care. Using data from the 2018 American Hospital Association Annual Survey, we present estimates of the number of occupied versus unoccupied beds at the national, state, and county levels. We estimate that the United States had 728,000 medical and surgical hospital beds available to the public, or 2.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people, in 2018. However, only 36 percent of these beds were unoccupied on a typical day, leaving just 0.8 unoccupied beds per 1,000 people. Small and rural hospitals had higher percentages of available beds, but smaller absolute capacity than larger urban hospitals. Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Rhode Island had lower than average hospital capacity and rates of unoccupied beds, whereas Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming had higher than average capacity. The accompanying online interactive map shows county-level estimates of hospital capacity. We find that certain counties most affected by COVID-19, such as King County, Washington, and Westchester County, New York, had lower than average unoccupied beds per 1,000 residents. Research has identified many strategies for increasing hospital surge capacity and managing patient flow, and understanding how hospital capacity varies across the country is essential to targeting these strategies appropriately and responding effectively to the pandemic.
To view county-level estimates of hospital capacities in 2018, see our interactive map here.