Total hospital admissions were down by 8.5% from March through December of 2020 compared to predicted levels due to COVID-19, a new report finds.
The report, released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Epic Health Research Network, also detailed how renewed surges of COVID-19 impacted admissions in the fall.
“Smaller hospitals, public hospitals and rural hospitals are among those most likely to face financial challenges in the wake of revenue loss related to COVID-19,” the report said. “Some of these hospitals may be at risk of closing or merging if they do not have the financial resources to make up for declines in revenue caused by the declines in admissions shown in our data.”
The analysis is based on Epic's electronic medical record data and includes all inpatient admissions from Dec. 31, 2017, to Dec. 5, 2020.
Overall, total hospital admissions dropped to nearly 70% of predicted admissions during the week ending April 4, which was the lowest point of the year. Hospitals across the country faced declining volumes as they were forced to shutter or postpone elective procedures to preserve capacity to fight the virus.
Volumes did rebound a few months later.
By the week of July 4 last year, non-COVID-19 admissions reached a high of 92% of predicted levels. However, those figures dropped again in November as COVID-19 cases resurged across the country.
In November, non-COVID-19 hospitalizations started to decline and “were about 80% of predicted hospitalizations by the end of the month.”
Researchers said the low number suggests people could once again be deferring or forgoing care due to the pandemic “in some cases likely due to hospital capacity constraints.”
“Based on our data through the beginning of December, the more recent decline in non-COVID-19 admissions has been steepest in the Midwest and West,” the analysis said. “In both of those regions, non-COVID-19 admissions were at roughly 76% of predicted levels at the end of November, as COVID-19 cases were surging in many parts of those regions.”
Some states such as North Dakota and Idaho had positivity rates of more than 30%.
Meanwhile, hospitals in the south “went from 87.8% of predicted non-COVID-19 volume to 82.3% during the same period,” the analysis said. “Meanwhile, hospitals in the Northeast had experienced the steepest decline in non-COVID-19 admissions early in the pandemic, but non-COVID-19 admissions remained at a higher level than other regions in the fall of 2020.”
Kaiser said hospitals could get money from a $178 billion provider relief fund, but much of that money wasn’t targeted toward safety net hospitals operating on thin margins.
As of Feb. 3, the Department of Health and Human Services has about $26 billion left to allocate.