More than 200 beds added by Maryland

As hospital use rises, state is restoring some previously deleted units

July 19, 2002|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

For years, state health planners complained that there were too many licensed hospital beds in Maryland, and that the excess capacity was driving up health costs. Yesterday, the state added more than 200 licensed beds for the second year in a row.

The increase came without a murmur, the result of an automated process created in a 1999 law that was the state's answer to "overbedding." The first time the new system was applied, it resulted in the elimination of nearly 3,000 beds at the stroke of a single memo. Despite the number, there was little real impact. The hospitals said the reduction was in "paper beds," or licensed capacities they weren't using.

And now, as hospital use has increased, some of the deleted beds are being restored. Under the new system, the state bases the licensed capacity of hospitals on actual occupancy the previous year, rather than on numbers granted to hospitals years earlier.

According to a report to the Maryland Health Care Commission at its meeting yesterday, the number for the next year will be 9,994. The number is calculated by looking at the number of patients each hospital had on an average day and adding 40 percent to allow for factors such as seasonal fluctuation.

At the meeting, Dr. George S Malouf, commission vice chairman, asked if Maryland was still "overbedded." Patricia Cameron, the staff member who prepared the report, noted that as of 2,000, Maryland had 1.94 beds per 1,000 residents, well below the national average of 2.65.

After the meeting, Barbara McLean, the commission's executive director, said the commission will be working over the next year to take a more detailed look at capacity, part of its regular cycle of updating the state health plan. The commission uses the plan and its need projections as a guideline when hospitals seek approval for new building projects.

Nancy Fielder, senior vice president of the Maryland Hospital Association, said hospitals were happy with the new system of deciding how many beds should be licensed, since it is "based on reality." She predicted that, with capacity tight in some rapidly-growing areas of the state, some hospitals would be seeking approval to add to their capacity.

Cameron told the commission that increased hospital use during the past few years was probably a reflection of the aging population. The number of patients admitted to the hospital has been going up, 4.5 percent in the past year, according to the hospital association. This more than offsets a continued decline in the number of days the average patient is hospitalized.

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