Hospitals face crowding, work force shortages

February 1, 2003

Pharmaceutical Representative

The demand for beds in U.S. hospitals is projected to increase by as much as 46% in the next 25 years.

The demand for beds in U.S. hospitals is projected to increase by as much as 46% in the next 25 years, according to a new study published by the Evanston, IL-based healthcare research company Solucient. This increase of 238,000 required beds is expected to result from long-term demographic shifts in the U.S. population, which could drive up demand for inpatient acute care through 2027.

The new long-term forecasts also show that total acute care admissions are projected to increase by 13 million cases during that same time frame - a 41% increase from the current number of national admissions.

Demographic factors

According to the study, several demographic factors are likely to contribute to the demand for inpatient care, including the aging of the baby boom generation, increasing life expectancy, rising fertility rates and continued immigration. These factors, however, will not affect each market equally.

Regionally, the study found that inpatient demand will grow fastest in the Western and Southern states and more slowly in Midwestern and Northeastern regions. However, even in slower-growing communities the aging population will prompt an increase in hospitalization rates that will outpace the growth of the total population. For example, while the total Chicago population is expected to grow by only 13% in the next 25 years, the large number of aging baby boomers retiring in that market will spark a 30% increase in inpatient bed demand - more than twice the population growth rate.

"Each community in the United States has a unique set of demographic factors that will determine how fast or slow inpatient utilization will grow over the next quarter century," said Paul Preskin, product director for Solucient.

Not enough workers

Such projections come at a time when staffing issues are straining the finances of many hospitals. According to a recent study by the community-owned healthcare organization VHA Inc., Irving, TX, hospitals with high turnover rates can experience an increase in the average cost-per-discharge of patients and a substantial decrease in profitability.

Staff turnover rates have a significant financial impact on hospitals in both time and money. Current data indicate a turnover rate in healthcare staffing of 20.7% for all positions. Replacement expenses, lost productivity and temporary staffing cost between 50% and 150% of an individual's base salary. At a 100% turnover cost factor, a turnover rate of 20% could cost a hospital an average of $5.5 million a year.

"Work force shortages are threatening the financial viability of many hospitals," said Keith Kosel, director of clinical services for VHA. "The domino effect of having fewer workers, more delays in delivering patient care, dissatisfaction among patients and hospital staff, decreasing quality of care, and loss of market share is alarming. Clearly, work force shortages are at the core of healthcare delivery and must be at the top of every agenda." PR

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