Illinois hospitals battle epidemic of empty beds

Illinois hospitals, like other facilities in rural areas, face an epidemic of empty beds.

Nearly 40 percent of the state's beds went unused in 2013, Crain's Chicago Business reports. The median statewide occupancy rate is only 53 percent, with fairly stark contrasts between the rates in urban centers--which are about 10 points higher than the median--and rural regions.

A survey of the bed occupancy data tells a story that is fairly familiar to other parts of the country: Hospitals in rural areas or those with aging infrastructure are those most likely to have issues with low occupancy. And in some areas of Chicago, demographic changes have led to depopulation of once crowded neighborhoods such as the Far South Side, the newspaper reports. Meanwhile, hospital operators in better financial condition built more heavily in wealthier suburbs, while teaching hospitals constructed large new facilities in urban areas.

Moreover, hospitals with higher occupancy rates receive far larger proportions of their revenue from private payers, which tend to pay higher rates than the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

"I think it's clear that there are more beds than necessary right now and that the need for inpatient beds is declining, not increasing," Arnie Kimmel, chief executive officer of Franciscan St. James Health, which operates two hospitals in the Chicago area, told Crain's. "That raises a whole host of unpleasant questions, like which hospital should close or be consolidated."

The pressures have forced some hospitals in other parties of the country to close. Hospitals in rural areas have been buckling under to the fact that there are few alternative available for a financial bailout. Hospital "deserts" have appeared in Rust Belt cities such as Detroit, Cleveland and St. Louis, as well as Atlanta and several cities in Texas, according to Boston University Professor Alan Sager.

Although Illinois has a Certificate of Need law, its lawmakers and policymakers do not have the power to shut down hospitals on their own, Crain's reported. And there is often pressure from communities to keep hospitals open. That was the case for Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center on Chicago's Northwest Side, which has remained open despite eight-figure annual losses."

In Mississippi, lawmakers intervened with financial aid to keep Montfort Jones Memorial Hospital in Kosciusko open, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported.

To learn more:
- read the Crain's Chicago Business article 
- check out the Jackson Clarion-Ledger article

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