Survey: Discharge Delays Burdening Minnesota Hospitals

Jan. 31, 2024
Delays include patients stuck in hospital beds waiting for transfers to nursing homes, rehabilitation units, mental health treatment facilities, and other sub-acute care facilities

A survey of Minnesota hospitals has found persistent, ongoing delays in discharges from emergency departments and inpatient care, resulting in tens of thousands of days of unnecessary hospital-level patient care and financial losses for the hospitals. 

The survey of 101 hospitals by the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) follows similar data collection by the Minnesota Department of Human Services in the first five months of 2023, which found more than 76,245 days of unnecessary hospital care. The new survey found 65,555 additional days of unnecessary patient stays June through October. (The new data reflects usual seasonal variation in hospital care, as well as changes in administrative data collection, according to MHA.) These surveys represent an annual total of nearly 195,000 patient days of avoidable and unpaid care. This patient gridlock not only reduces overall capacity for hospital care; it also cost Minnesota hospitals and health systems an estimated $487 million in unpaid care, MHA said. 

“Minnesota hospitals have gone from being a safety net, to being a catch-all for patient care,” said Minnesota Hospital Association CEO and President Rahul Koranne, M.D., M.B.A., in a statement. “This is a function they were never intended for, can’t afford, and isn’t good for patients. This gridlock is preventing Minnesotans from getting care that their lives depend on. Policy makers must act.” 

These delays include patients stuck in hospital beds waiting for transfers to nursing homes, rehabilitation units, mental health treatment facilities, and other sub-acute care facilities. The latest survey also found hospitals provided 9,223 days of emergency department stays, often people stuck waiting for inpatient care, or simply brought to a hospital for lack of any alternative. These stays increased waits for other patients who need care and forced some patients to find other care elsewhere, with potentially life-altering delay.

MHA also makes the case that this level of unpaid care is unsustainable and is a root cause of financial distress for hospitals all over the country, combined with payers that don’t cover the full costs of care, and fast-rising costs. In the first half of 2023, 67 percent of Minnesota hospitals reported operating losses. Two hospitals recently closed in western Wisconsin. 

Koranne noted the Minnesota Department of Health has already had three hearings on hospital service closures in January – half of the total for all of last year in Minnesota. "We are at a critical point,” he said. “Our hospitals are facing immense financial pressure. We need real and immediate financial assistance from the legislature in the coming weeks to prevent further service or facility closures and to ensure access to quality health care for all Minnesotans." 


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