Study analyzes hospital system capacity burden amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Research suggests proactive planning could have alleviated COVID-19 burden on hospitals by prioritizing resource allocation
Health care worker in treatment area
Photo by Amir Arabshahi on Unsplash

A new study examined hospital responses during the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of identifying the capacity burdens experienced by the country’s hospital systems during the pandemic’s peak.  

The study, led by Richard Boxer, MD, clinical professor of Urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, used data on 7-day averaged COVID-19 hospitalizations from the Department of Health and Human Services. The analysis spanned the period between December 18, 2020, and January 14, 2021, which coincided with the peak of national COVID-19 hospitalizations. Findings revealed that throughout this four-week timeframe, 2,901 distinct hospitals reported an average of 45.7 COVID-19 patients per day.   

Researchers looked at the first big surge of COVID-19 cases when hospitals were struggling with limited capacity. Study authors discovered that smaller hospitals within large health systems had more COVID-19 patients compared to independent hospitals. However, the largest hospitals within the top ten health systems studied didn’t show this trend.  

Hospitals that had pediatric and trauma units tended to experience lower numbers of COVID-19 patients, particularly in regions with a higher density of hospitals. In areas characterized by lower socioeconomic status and a larger Black population, hospitals had fewer COVID-19 patients when fewer hospitals were accessible. However, in areas with a higher percentage of Latino residents, there were more COVID-19 patients, regardless of how many hospitals were present.  

“Within the concerning landscape of COVID-19's impact, our study reveals a sobering reality: When there are more hospitals in a market, thus more competition, the economically disadvantaged had fewer admissions than would be expected based upon their population percentage," Dr. Boxer said. "This indicates that by focusing on resource allocation, we could help reduce the strain on hospitals and make space for patients living in areas with lower socioeconomic status."

Overall, the study found that both independent and top ten system hospitals have similar percentages of beds compared to the percentage of COVID-19 patients they care for in their respective areas.  

Article: Association of Hospital System Affiliation with COVID-19 Capacity Burden Published September 2023, 

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