Fewer paying patients causes downward spiral for hospitals

Hospitals across the country have reported that fewer patients are opting for procedures such as knee replacements, hernia repairs and weight-loss surgeries, mainly because of the state of the economy. In addition, more people who make visits to the emergency room are struggling to pay their bills. For some hospitals, the decrease in income could mean less charity care, considering that the money brought in from those elective treatments tends to subsidize both charity care and unpaid medical bills.

Florida non-profit system Shands HealthCare recently closed a 367-bed hospital in Gainesville after losing $12 million last year, unable to deal with the hemorrhaging economic situation. "We cannot carry it anymore," said Timothy Goldfarb, the system's chief executive.

Other hospital systems are making sacrifices to survive. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for example, is set to cut 500 jobs, citing a "tailing off" of growth. "[Growth has been] much, much slower than we've seen in years past," said Robert A. DeMichiei, Pittsburgh's chief financial officer.

No matter how you slice it, this appears to be a problem that could go on for quite some time.

Fore more information:
- here's the New York Times article