Sunday, October 01, 2006
GAO report on emergency medical services post-Katrina
While New Orleans continues to face a range of health care challenges, hospital officials in the greater New Orleans area reported in April 2006 that a sufficient number of staffed inpatient beds existed for all services except for psychiatric care -- some psychiatric patients had to be transferred out of the area because of a lack of beds. Overall, as of April 2006, the greater New Orleans area had about 3.2 staffed beds per 1,000 population, compared with the national average of 2.8 staffed beds per 1,000 population reported by the American Hospital Association. Hospital officials told us that they planned to open an additional 674 staffed beds by the end of 2006 -- 390 of which would be at University Hospital -- although they also reported that recruiting, hiring, and retaining nurses and support staff was a great challenge. With the addition of these beds, the population would have to increase from 588,000 in April 2006 to 913,000 by December 2006 before staffed beds would drop to the national average. For all types of care, eight of the nine hospitals we contacted provided us with an estimated overall occupancy rate for the 9-month period following the hurricane (through April 2006) and for the 12-month period before the hurricane. The hospitals’ occupancy rates for the 9-month period after the hurricane ranged from 45 percent to 100 percent, or an average of 77 percent, compared with a range from 33 percent to 85 percent, or an average of 70 percent, for the 12-month period before the hurricane. The American Hospital Association reported that the average monthly hospital occupancy rate nationwide was 67 percent in 2004. Eight of the nine hospitals that remained open after Hurricane Katrina also reported a high demand for services in their emergency departments, similar to the nationwide trend reported by the Institute of Medicine in June 2006 that emergency department crowding is a nationwide problem.