Do empty beds mean too many hospitals or better care?

Most hospitals in Maine continue to see low occupancy rates, raising the question of whether empty beds mean there are too many hospitals or patients are receiving better care.

With occupancy rates below the national average, industry experts wonder if all of the state's 36 acute care centers are necessary, the Portland Press Herald reported.

But hospital officials point to technology improvements, reimbursements changes and the shift toward outpatient services as reasons why patients spend less time in the hospital and that prevent them from admitting in the first place, the article noted.

Illinois' Northwest Community Healthcare, for example, recently hopped on the outpatient trend, opening four new outpatient facilities next year, in addition to its four immediate-care centers and a FastCare Clinic offering walk-in treatment, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Hospitals also may opt for lower occupancy rates given that overcrowding is associated with increased inpatient mortality, as well as moderate rises in length of stay and costs, according to a December study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"There are competing risks. Extremely high occupancy rates cause problems of overcrowding and back-ups in emergency departments if there's not room for admissions," Karen Joynt, a health policy researcher with the Harvard School of Public Health, told the Press Herald."Too low is problematic because the revenue is too low to keep the hospital functioning," she said.

Even without optimal occupancy, low-volume hospitals could turn those empty beds into a new revenue source. A Midwest hospital used its existing empty beds to create a three-day inpatient medical stabilization program. The new service line generated $800,000 of annual revenue with a 40 percent profit margin, Kevin L. Shrake, a former hospital CEO and a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives, wrote in a Hospital Impact blog post earlier this month.

For more:
- read the Press Herald article