Rural Health Research Gateway: Research Alert

March 25, 2020

Occupancy Rates in Rural and Urban Hospitals: Value and Limitations in Use as a Measure of Surge Capacity

As policymakers deal with the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the hospital infrastructure, understanding the differences in occupancy rates between rural and urban hospitals may help state and local officials in their planning for dealing with surge demand. Historically, rural hospitals have reported lower occupancy rates than urban hospitals and more licensed than staffed beds. This may represent surge capacity for state and local officials to consider in responding to this crisis. The purpose of this brief is to describe variations in hospital occupancy rates nationally and by state, provide additional data for state and local officials, and highlight challenges in identifying surge capacity.

Key findings are:

  1. In almost every state, rural hospitals have lower acute care and intensive care unit occupancy rates compared to their urban counterparts;
  2. However, historical average occupancy rates may not reflect care patterns in the short run.

Contact Information:

George H. Pink, PhD
North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center
Phone: 919.843.2728

Additional Resources of Interest: