January 23, 2009

Survey: Slow economy a pain for hospitals

The sour U.S. economy is forcing many hospitals to postpone expansion plans, new equipment purchases and adding to their employment rolls, a survey indicated.

The American Hospital Association survey indicated 45 percent of hospitals postponed new projects and 13 percent have halted expansions already begun because of the economic crunch, USA Today reported Friday.

For most Americans, today's economic woes are like none they've ever seen, and the same goes for the nation's hospitals, Richard Umbdenstock, association president and chief executive officer, said of the survey of 639 hospitals released Thursday.

The credit crunch also affects hospitals in two other ways, USA Today said. Patient visits were flat or fell in the third quarter of 2008, and hospitals saw an 8 percent increase in unpaid bills, the hospital association found in a November survey.

Economic conditions could mean hospitals have to compete more on price and quality, benefiting patients, said Jim Unland, head of the consulting firm of Health Capital Group. Conditions also may slow hospitals building new wings or buying expensive equipment to complete with nearby medical facilities.