U.S. Adult Critical Care Beds Per Capita: A 2021 County-Level Cross-Sectional Study

Crit Care Explor. 2023 Feb 24;5(3):e0868. doi: 10.1097/CCE.0000000000000868. eCollection 2023 Mar.


Per capita geographic distribution of adult critical care beds can be utilized for healthcare resources assessments.

Objectives: Describe the per capita distribution of staffed adult critical care beds across the United States.

Design setting and participants: Cross-sectional epidemiologic assessment of November 2021 hospital data from the Department of Health and Human Services' Protect Public Data Hub.

Main outcomes and measures: Staffed adult critical care beds per adult population.

Results: The percent of hospitals reporting was high and varied by state/territory (median, 98.6% of states' hospitals reporting; interquartile range [IQR], 97.8-100%). There was a total of 4,846 adult hospitals accounting for 79,876 adult critical care beds in the United States and its territories. Crudely aggregated at the national-level, this calculated to 0.31 adult critical care beds per 1,000 adults. The median crude per capita density of adult critical care beds per 1,000 adults across U.S. counties was 0.00 per 1,000 adults (county, IQR 0.00-0.25; range, 0.00-8.65). Spatially smoothed county-level estimates were obtained using Empirical Bayes and Spatial Empirical Bayes approaches, resulting in an estimated 0.18 adult critical care beds per 1,000 adults (range from both methodological estimates, 0.00-8.20). When compared to counties in the lower quartile of adult critical care bed density, counties in the upper quartile had higher average adult population counts (mean 159,000 vs 32,000 adults per county) and a choropleth map demonstrated high densities of beds in urban centers with low density across rural areas.

Conclusions and relevance: Among U.S. counties, the density of critical care beds per capita was not uniformly distributed, with high densities concentrated in highly populated urban centers and relative scarcity in rural areas. As it is unknown what defines deficiency and surplus in terms of outcomes and costs, this descriptive report serves as an additional methodological benchmark for hypothesis-driven research in this area.

Keywords: critical care; epidemiology; health services; public health; supply & distribution.