One of the alarming stories that you will see in the coming days are reports that many hospitals’ ICU are at 90% capacity. This seems like the ICU is crowded, but that isn’t the case. Hospitals normally try to keep the ICU at 75% to 85% capacity. As support, here are two studies on that:
reporting of ICU occupancy measures were identified and there were indications that optimal ICU occupancy rates were around 70–75%.
I like having a midnight census of about 85% on Monday through Wednesday. That 15% buffer allows us to overlap that day’s admissions with that day’s discharges in the afternoons and also give us rooms to put the new admission in while we are cleaning the recently vacated rooms. Thursdays and Fridays, I like a midnight census of 80%. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 75% is acceptable because our surgical floors are starting to empty out and we reduce scheduled nursing staff accordingly.
So seeing a 90% occupancy rate is not a whole lot higher than normal. In fact, hospitals can’t be profitable with a census below 70%.
If the occupancy is too low, then you have too many staff sitting around without work to do and you will lose money. If the occupancy is too high, then a couple of nurse call-offs means excessive work for the other nurses and can hurt morale. Furthermore, if you are completely full, you have to turn away patients and in the long-run that can harm both reputation and future referrals.