If today turns out to be an average one for Kentucky’s hospitals, here is a glimpse of what is taking place: More than 6,600 patients will be treated in emergency rooms; 14,000 more will be helped with other outpatient services; 1,500 will be discharged after a stay of about four-and-a-half days; and 150 of the state’s newest citizens will be born.
This information, compiled by the Kentucky Hospital Association, gives us a much clearer view of the one place in our communities that we may not always want to visit but are always glad that it’s there.
Overall, 72,000 people work at our hospitals, putting them ninth among the state’s industries in total employment but sixth when measuring each industry’s average salary. These hospitals – found in 81 counties, with 13 counties having more than one – generate about $4 billion in local economic activity each year, while providing more than a half-billion dollars in state and local taxes.
Although most of our hospitals cover a wide range of services, we have quite a few that specialize as well. There are six freestanding rehabilitation hospitals across the state, for example, and 12 other community hospitals that have space dedicated to this care; combined, they can treat about 700 people at a time. We also have four state-run psychiatric hospitals, nine others that are privately owned and 27 community hospitals that also are licensed in this field. Statewide, there are 2,900 slots in this area.
Census figures from 2008 show that we have about 11,300 doctors, or 265 for every 100,000 citizens. That’s low when compared to the national average, which is 326 per 100,000. For Kentucky to reach this level, we would have to hire 2,600 more physicians.
There is similar need for nurses as well, though that profession has seen strong growth in recent years, with its ranks moving from nearly 65,000 in 2007 to almost 73,000 in 2011. About 25,000 of these nurses work in our hospitals, where they make up almost a third of the total workforce.
One positive area where Kentucky gets high marks is the average cost per hospital stay; we have the fifth lowest cost in this category among the states, with each patient’s bill about $7,800.
Interestingly, we’re seeing the number of patients needing to stay at least overnight decline; the 548,000 discharges in 2010 were about 2 percent less than they were in 2006. The greatest drop was among children five and younger; their hospital stays fell by a sixth during those years.
Some of the reduced figures we’re seeing could be a result of the downturn in the nation’s economy. Consider the 55,000 births in 2009, which were about five percent lower than they were in 2007; in fact, there hasn’t been a two-year drop in fertility rates this significant in at least 30 years.
The recession also played a role in the growing numbers of Kentuckians qualifying for Medicaid. When you combine that trend with more of our graying population joining Medicare, it’s easier to understand why those enrolled in these two programs made up two-thirds of all patients staying in our hospitals in 2010.
Our collective health, unfortunately, is another major driver behind many of our visits to the doctor. We have the nation’s highest cancer rates when adjusted for age, and we’re ninth highest in accidents, 10th in heart disease and 13th for strokes. If we could improve these figures, it would raise our quality of life and save us tens of millions of dollars, if not more.
I think that’s our biggest challenge in the years ahead. It will take all of us working together to make these strides, but our hospitals – and the medical community as a whole – will naturally continue playing a frontline role. We can’t do it without them.