Special Report

Counties With the Fewest Hospitals

Hospitals — a place no one ever wants to go, but most will, sooner or later. They are a necessity, providing emergency medical care and taking care of the sick (and these are states where people are too sick to work). For those without health insurance, they also provide a sense of security as hospitals are legally required to admit a patient in emergency situations — they cannot turn anyone away.

There were 6,210 hospitals and 931,203 staffed beds registered in the United States as of 2017, the latest year for which data is available, according to the American Hospital Association. That is about one bed per 351 American residents.

Most hospitals nationwide are community hospitals, defined as all nongovernment nonprofit hospitals, for-profit hospitals, and state and local government hospitals. These range from short-term general, gynecology, long-term acute-care, rehabilitation, and other specialty hospitals.

Hospital inpatient care accounts for a third of the total health care costs in the country — and this is what your state spends on your health care. Hospitalizations, which totaled more than 36.5 million across the country in 2017, are trending upwards. Not only is the population increasing, but it also aging, likely contributing to much of the increase in hospitalizations. Seasonal events, too, such a severe flu season, can increase hospitalizations.

24/7 Tempo reviewed Medicare data to find the number of hospitals per capita in a county area. Nationwide, there are 1.5 hospitals per 100,000 people.

The counties with the fewest hospitals per capita tend to be in areas that are more densely populated. This is why, for example, Kings County (Brooklyn) in New York ranks towards the bottom of the nearly 2,200 U.S. counties reviewed. It has the 27th largest number of hospitals in absolute terms in the United States, but it is also the nation’s eighth most populous county, which significantly lowers its per capita ranking.

The number of hospitals per person does not necessarily indicate a problem with access. Access to medical care can also be affected by income, as lower income Americans may be less likely to afford treatment. However, most of the counties on the list have a median annual household income much higher than the national median of $57,652.

Click here to see the U.S. counties with fewest hospitals.

To identify the counties with the fewest hospitals per capita, 24/7 Tempo reviewed government data for all 4,784 hospitals registered with Medicare, a federal health insurance program that serves the eldelry and people with disabilities. Population and income data came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey. The share of each county’s population without health insurance came from the 2019 report by County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program.

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