Special Report

Amid Pandemic, These Are the Counties With the Fewest Hospitals

Hristina Byrnes

The surge of COVID-19 patients and deaths has overwhelmed hospitals all over the country. On a daily basis doctors and nurses are working on the front lines of what is being described as a medical war zone. For people without health insurance, hospitals provide some sense of security as they are legally required to admit a patient in emergency situations.

24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau to find the number of hospitals per capita in U.S. counties. On average nationwide, there is one hospital for every 63,500 people.

There were more than 6,000 hospitals and 924,000 staffed beds registered in the United States as of 2018, the latest year for which data is available, according to the American Hospital Association. Of those hospitals, 5,339 are registered with Medicare. In normal circumstances, this is enough. But these are not normal times.

As of March 31, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking reports and confirming them with local health departments, there were 164,719 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States — more than any other country in the world — and the numbers are rapidly rising, in part because testing becomes more readily available.

People who are sick are not spread evenly across the country. Most cases are found in more densely-populated urban areas — and these crowded places tend to also be the counties with fewest hospitals per capita.

For example, King County, Washington, ranks towards the bottom of all U.S. counties in hospitals per capita. It has the 11th largest number of hospitals in absolute terms nationwide, at 21, but it is also the nation’s 12th most populous county, which significantly lowers its per capita ranking. King County — of which Seattle, the state’s most populous city, is part — also has one of the highest numbers of both confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.

COVID-19 is a new disease, and everyone in the world is at risk of getting infected. According to the CDC, older adults and people of any age with pre-existing medical conditions are at higher risk of developing serious illness from the coronavirus. Here are 16 tips to prevent coronavirus and other viral infections.

Health experts are expecting COVID-19 cases to surge even more in the coming weeks, and with them there will be a surge in the more severe cases that require hospitalization. Already many hospitals are operating at capacity, and those that have not already reached their maximum capacity likely soon will.

Click here for the counties with fewest hospitals in the US.
Click here for our methodology.