Public hospitals are owned by governments and play an important role in the health care safety net, providing care for patients who may have limited access to care elsewhere. Public hospitals provide care for individuals across the United States: in urban and suburban areas, in small towns, and in rural areas. However, these institutions face unique challenges. Surveys of metropolitan public safety net hospitals suggest that these institutions provide care for a large proportion of patients who have low income, are uninsured, or are covered by Medicaid. They serve a critical role as teaching institutions, and are often the first choice for trauma care. Furthermore, public hospitals provide a large amount of unreimbursed care.
This Statistical Brief presents data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) regarding short-term, non-federal, acute care public hospitals in 2008.2 Public hospitals are compared with private not-for-profit (NFP) hospitals on facility characteristics, utilization, characteristics of patient stays, and hospital resources. Variations between public hospitals in metropolitan (urban or suburban fringe), micropolitan (small to medium-sized towns), and rural areas are also described. Hospitals are compared on various measures such as characteristics (size, occupancy, affiliation with a system, teaching status, staffing, and services provided). In addition, hospitals are compared on patient characteristics including age, patient complexity, median household income associated with patients’ ZIP Code, expected payer, length of stay, and discharge status.