Length of stay is increasing in U.S. hospitals because of a rising challenge: finding available beds in post-acute care settings.  

In part one of this two-part series, we’ll explore why hospitals are struggling to discharge patients, the costs of longer lengths of stay, and whether automated bed availability is a viable solution. In part two, we’ll share proven ways case managers can streamline discharge to post-acute care with Strata Health’s digital tools and software solutions.

The Facts  

  • Severe staff shortages at post-acute care facilities are causing alarming rejection rates.
    The American Hospital Association reports patient rejections in skilled-nursing facilities were as high as 88% in Q1 of 2022.  
  • With nowhere to go, patients are occupying hospital beds longer than necessary.
    According to data from Strata Decision Technology, the average length of stay for patients discharged to post-acute care providers has grown by nearly 24% since 2019. 
  • Hospitals are paying the price for discharge delays. 
    When hospitals are left to care for patients during excess days, they do not receive reimbursement for the associated costs. Providence Health in Spokane, Washington, was projected to spend nearly $18 million in 2022 on nursing care for patients who no longer need to be hospitalized. 
  • As financial pressures rise, reducing length of stay is critical to mitigating costs. 
    Data from health care consulting firm Kaufman Hall found that hospitals’ expenses were projected to increase by $135 billion in 2022, with as many as 68% of hospitals ending the year operating at a financial loss.  

Is an automated bed management tool the answer? 

We’ve seen the headlines and have heard from our customers. At first glance, automated bed availability seems like the right solution. And in a perfect world, it probably is. Imagine if your hospital had real-time visibility into where post-acute care vacancies exist in your area. Or if you received a notification the instant a bed that meets your patient’s needs opened. This would be an incredibly powerful way to reduce referral rejections and speed up discharge. 

The technology exists—at Strata Health, we’ve provided automated bed availability solutions in other markets for decades. However, an automated feed only works if the data is accurate, verified, and reliable. Ideally, dedicated staff would track and record bed and service availability at post-acute care facilities, or the process would be automated. For example, long-term care facilities in Canada must create a vacancy before filling a bed. This is a mandatory step in the placement process, which maintains data integrity and makes the process prime for automation.

The challenge in America is that the data isn’t there. It doesn’t exist. With extensive experience in Case Management, we asked our Senior Vice President & General Manager at Strata Health U.S., Marmmett Horton, MSW, ACM-SW, why generating this data is problematic.

“Post-acute care providers have never been incentivized to track and provide bed availability, so it’s not a standardized practice here. Until this becomes part of the process, asking your post-acute care partners to add to their administrative load isn’t realistic,” she explains. “Bed turnovers happen quickly, and not always predictably. When beds are filled faster than the manual updates can be made, it becomes extremely difficult for short-staffed facilities to keep the data up to date.”

Therefore, without the data, there’s no reliable source of information to automate. We can assume that newer vendors offering automated bed availability solutions across the United States are working from theory, not practical experience. 

Effective Tools for Improving Delayed Discharge

While automated bed availability may not be a realistic solution for your hospital’s delayed discharge problem, the good news is alternative solutions exist and can be deployed rapidly to help you find beds in post-acute care settings.

Read Part Two of this series: 3 Proven Solutions for Streamlining Discharge to Post-Acute Care.

Contact Strata Health Today

Strata Health’s digital tools and automated process solutions reduce length of stay by streamlining transition of care workflows from hospital to post-acute care. To learn more, contact us.

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