Half of Low-Income Areas Have No ICU Beds

A study published in Health Affairs found that 49% of communities with a median income under $35,000 had no intensive care unit (ICU) beds in their ZIP code area, compared with only 3% of communities with a median income over $90,000.

The report analyzed median household income compared with the number of ICU beds per 10,000 residents over age 50, which is the demographic at greatest risk for COVID-19 hospitalization.

“What we [found] is that this low-income population is going to be doubly or triply hit [by COVID-19],” said Genevieve Kanter, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and the first author of the study. “Not only will there be higher infection rates, and worse outcomes due to underlying conditions, but also – once you get to the hospital – worse availability of the kind of care that you need.”

The class-based disparity also was found to be far greater in rural areas compared with urban areas.

“That’s a really important distinction because the health care delivery systems are very different in [rural] areas,” Nancy Beaulieu, PhD, a health-care policy researcher at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study, told STAT. “And the policy options for addressing disparities in these two types of areas are also likely to be quite different.”

Dr. Beaulieu also noted that researchers need to launch additional studies into other disparities affecting low-income populations, such as lack of access to specialists.

Sources: STAT, August 3, 2020; Kanter GP, Segal A, et al. Income Disparities In Access To Critical Care Services. Health Aff. 2020 August 3. [Epub ahead of print]