American Hospital Association President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock

U.S. Hospitals Stretched Thin, AHA Warns

A new survey finds about half have reduced staff and 22 percent have reduced services in response to the weak economy.

A new report published April 27 by the American Hospital Association indicates U.S. hospitals have cut staff and services because of the weak American economy. The hospitals' financial distress is happening just as the swine flu outbreak is threatening to increase their workload, according to the report, which is backed up by a series of videos, now available on YouTube, that were filmed during AHA's 2009 annual meeting. The three-day event ended yesterday in Washington, D.C.

Six out of every 10 hospitals in the country are seeing a higher percentage of patients without insurance coming to their emergency departments, and 43 percent of hospitals answering the survey that is summarized in the report said they expected losses in 2009's first quarter -- up from 26 percent during 2008's first quarter. Forty-eight percent said they have cut staff, and 22 percent said they have reduced services. Eighty percent have cut administrative expenses. Eleven percent said their community's need for subsidized services had increased significantly, while 42 percent said the need had increased moderately. Charitable contributions have declined, however.

"Today's findings signal what many of us in health care are concerned about: People put off care when they lose their job, which can complicate health care issues for many down the road," AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock said. "At the same time, the fact that hospitals are cutting staff challenges the notion that hospitals are recession-proof. Community need for care remains high and in these tough times, communities turn to their local hospital. Hospitals are walking a tightrope, trying to balance the growing needs of their communities with today's economic challenges."

The report includes BLS data showing the number of hospital and health care mass layoffs in February 2009, 23, more than doubled the 12 reported in February 2008, and hospital employment nationwide has stopped growing.

The survey, AHA's second about the economic downturn's impact on patients and communities hospitals serve, was sent to all 4,946 community hospitals in March 2099. A total of 1,078 responses were received.

The videos shot at the annual meeting allowed hospital leaders from across the country to explain how their organizations are surviving the slowdown. AHA, a not-for-profit association, includes more than 5,000 member hospitals, health systems, and other health care organizations and 38,000 individual members. Click here for a page of its 2009 advocacy issue papers.

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