Hospital Financial Decisions Play a Role in the Critical Shortage of Pediatric Beds for RSV Patients

by | Dec 9, 2022 | Health

The dire shortage of pediatric hospital beds plaguing the nation this fall is a byproduct of financial decisions made by hospitals over the past decade, as they shuttered children’s wards, which often operate in the red, and expanded the number of beds available for more profitable endeavors like joint replacements and cancer care.

To cope with the flood of young patients sickened by a sweeping convergence of nasty bugs — especially respiratory syncytial virus, influenza, and coronavirus — medical centers nationwide have deployed triage tents, delayed elective surgeries, and transferred critically ill children out of state.

A major factor in the bed shortage is a years-long trend among hospitals of eliminating pediatric units, which tend to be less profitable than adult units, said Mark Wietecha, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Association. Hospitals optimize revenue by striving to keep their beds 100% full — and filled with patients whose conditions command generous insurance reimbursements.

“It really has to do with dollars,” said Dr. Scott Krugman, vice chair of pediatrics at the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai in Baltimore. “Hospitals rely on high-volume, high-reimbursement procedures from good payers to make money. There’s no incentive for hospitals to provide money-losing services.”

The number of pediatric inpatient units in hospitals fell 19% from 2008 to 2018, according to a study published in 2021 in the journal Pediatrics. Just this year, hospitals have closed pediatric units in Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts; Richmond, Virginia; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The current surge in dangerous respiratory illnesses among children is yet another example of how covid-19 …

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