Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia Business School studied bed capacity –measured by the number of staffed beds — in New York City hospital obstetrics units and found a significant excess number of beds, which overall cost the city an estimated $26.4 million each year. The findings, coupled with the current trends of an aging population and the declining birth rate, suggest that many obstetrics units could reduce their bed capacity and still assure timely access to care. Study findings are published in the journal Medical Care Research and Review.
Inpatient beds constitute the single largest fixed cost for a hospital. Although the estimated cost of an unused bed varies, from $80,951 to $205,105, these estimates all point to a significant amount of wasted resources due to excess hospital bed capacity, according to the study’s authors.
“In obstetrics units, there is a nearly universal mismatch of bed capacity and patient demand in all types of hospitals in New York City,” said Dr. Nan Liu, assistant professor of health policy and management at the Mailman School of Public Health. “Thirty percent of the units are heavily congested; in these units, at least one patient out of ten was delayed in getting an obstetrics bed after giving birth to her baby. In contrast, more than a fifth of the units are significantly underutilized with beds empty almost at all times, wasting a lot of medical resources.”
The study looked at obstetrics capacity in 40 New York City hospitals during 2008-2009. Overall excess was 184 beds per year, and the total number of insufficient beds citywide amounted to 55 beds per year, resulting in a net excess of 129 beds or approximately 9 percent of the entire city’s obstetrics capacity. The average capacity of the 40 obstetrics units was 34.5 beds or a total capacity of 1,381 beds. These hospitals collectively handled around 240,000 maternal admissions in 2008 and 2009.