A new plan to eliminate 2,000 hospital beds in Maryland this year was put into effect today by a legislative oversight committee.
The plan has been advocated by state officials to cut health costs. The biggest reductions called for in the Washington area are for 107 beds at Suburban Hospital, 85 beds at Greater Laurel/Beltsville, and 69 beds at Prince George's General.
Health planners have set target bed reductions for hospitals with a deadline of Nov. 1; further reductions could be set later. The planners are also encouraging hospitals with underused facilities to merge with other hospitals. But under the plan approved today by the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, specific hospitals have not been targeted for elimination, as was recommended in a controversial consultant's report released last summer.
According to that report, more than 5,126 of the state's 15,600 hospital beds are regularly empty. The annual cost of those beds and the staff and facilities that support them was calculated at between $131 million and $231 million in 1983, although many hospital officials argue those figures are vastly exaggerated.
Under the plan approved today, hospitals that fail to meet their bed-reduction targets by Nov. 1 could be ordered by state officials to reduce a still-larger number of excess beds or could be required to eliminate unused beds before receiving any "certificate of need" from the state for new health care or building projects. Ultimately, the state could remove licenses for hospital beds or entire hospitals.
Hospitals that meet their reduction targets, merge, or turn part of their facilities to nonhealth uses would be rewarded with preferential treatment in the expensive and time-consuming process of obtaining certificates of need.
But hospital officials said today the new regulations are so complicated they are uncertain how many beds they will have to eliminate. Besides, hospital officials said it was unclear how they might be affected by future revisions in bed-reduction targets that health planners say will be based on the quality of care hospitals provide.
"We're not sure what we're going to do, because we're not sure what our targeted bed reduction is going to be," said Lynn Frank, assistant administrator at Suburban Hospital. Although the hospital is licensed for 445 beds, she said, it has only 375 in operation. Its target is set at 338. Even without state regulatory pressure, she said, the hospital has been reducing beds to cater to more outpatients and has eliminated one regular nursing ward in favor of a 13-bed luxury ward.
Richard Wade, a spokesman for the Maryland Hospital Association, said hospitals already are reducing beds or merging. He noted that in Baltimore, North Charles General Hospital is linking with Baltimore City Hospital and Provident Hospital is negotiating with Lutheran Hospital.
"The environment is forcing this," Wade said. "Length-of-stay and admissions in general are continuing to decline, and those sorts of things are exacerbating the financial picture for hospitals. They have to regroup."