The changing landscape of hospital capacity in large cities and suburbs: implications for the safety net in metropolitan America

J Urban Health. 2007 May;84(3):400-14. doi: 10.1007/s11524-007-9163-9.


An analysis of trends in hospital use and capacity by ownership status and community poverty levels for large urban and suburban areas was undertaken to examine changes that may have important implications for the future of the hospital safety net in large metropolitan areas. Using data on general acute care hospitals located in the 100 largest cities and their suburbs for the years 1996, 1999, and 2002, we examined a number of measures of use and capacity, including staffed beds, admissions, outpatient and emergency department visits, trauma centers, and positron emission tomography scanners. Over the 6-year period, the number of for-profit, nonprofit, and public hospitals declined in both cities and suburbs, with public hospitals showing the largest percentage of decreases. By 2002, for-profit hospitals were responsible for more Medicaid admissions than public hospitals for the 100 largest cities combined. Public hospitals, however, maintained the longest Medicaid average length of stay. The proportion of urban hospital resources located in high poverty cities was slightly higher than the proportion of urban population living in high poverty cities. However, the results demonstrate for the first time, a highly disproportionate share of hospital resources and use among suburbs with a low poverty rate compared to suburbs with a high poverty rate. High poverty communities represented the greatest proportion of suburban population in 2000 but had the smallest proportion of hospital use and specialty care capacity, whereas the opposite was true of low poverty suburbs. The results raise questions about the effects of the expanding role of private hospitals as safety net providers, and have implications for poor residents in high poverty suburban areas, and for urban safety net hospitals that care for poor suburban residents in surrounding communities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Services Accessibility / trends*
  • Hospital Bed Capacity / economics
  • Hospital Bed Capacity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals, Proprietary / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Proprietary / supply & distribution
  • Hospitals, Public / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Public / supply & distribution
  • Hospitals, Urban / classification
  • Hospitals, Urban / economics
  • Hospitals, Urban / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Urban / supply & distribution*
  • Hospitals, Voluntary / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Voluntary / supply & distribution
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Medicaid / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Ownership
  • Poverty Areas*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Suburban Population
  • United States
  • Urban Population