NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

HOSPITALS ARE SHUTTING DOWN BURN CENTERS

August 9, 2007

U.S. hospitals are increasingly shutting down their burn centers in a trend experts say could leave the nation unable to handle widespread burn casualties from a fiery terrorist attack or other major disaster, according to the Associated Press.

Consider:

  • The number of burn centers in the United States dropped from 132 in 2004 to 127, and burn beds have fallen from 1,897 to 1,820, according to American Burn Association records.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services puts the number of burn beds even lower, at just 1,500.
  • And most of those are already filled, with the number available on any given day variously estimated at just 300 to 500.

Further, burn center directors say more beds are likely to disappear:

  • Centers are expensive to maintain because they are staffed with highly specialized surgeons and nurses and stocked with sophisticated equipment designed to ease patients' excruciating pain, fend off deadly complications and promote healing.
  • Since it costs about $10,000 a day to treat a patient with severe burns, and such patients typically require 50 days of intensive care, a single uninsured patient can wreck the finances of a small burn program.
  • In addition, most burn centers are losing money because Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements have not kept up with the cost of providing care, experts say, and private insurers often follow Medicare's lead.

"If something happens and we need the beds for burn patients, it is going to be a real catastrophe," said Dr. Alan R. Dimick, past president of the American Burn Association and founder of the burn center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Source: Bill Poovey, "Hospitals Are Shutting Down Burn Centers," Forbes, August 8, 2007.

 

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