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Regional disparities in hospital bed access across Canada

Summary:
The number of acute care hospital beds per capita is an imperfect measure of a health care system's ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, beds are easy to acquire, as are hotels or similar buildings to put beds in. It is ventilators, IV drips, heart monitors, masks, gloves, and, above all, skilled health professionals that are the crucial resource constraints in this crisis. However if most hospitals operate with more or less the same ratio of nurses/beds, IV drips/beds, ventilators/beds and so on, looking at the number of beds per capita is a pretty good way to compare different countries', or regions', health care capacity. In my last post and this piece for IRPP I discussed Canada's low number of beds relative to other OECD countries, and interprovincial disparities

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The number of acute care hospital beds per capita is an imperfect measure of a health care system's ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, beds are easy to acquire, as are hotels or similar buildings to put beds in. It is ventilators, IV drips, heart monitors, masks, gloves, and, above all, skilled health professionals that are the crucial resource constraints in this crisis. However if most hospitals operate with more or less the same ratio of nurses/beds, IV drips/beds, ventilators/beds and so on, looking at the number of beds per capita is a pretty good way to compare different countries', or regions', health care capacity.

In my last post and this piece for IRPP I discussed Canada's low number of beds relative to other OECD countries, and interprovincial disparities in bed numbers. In this post, I drill down to the health region level, show just how much hospital bed numbers differ across regions within the same province. This gives a useful indicator of Canada's regional disparities in health care funding and access to health care - and thus raises questions about the overall structure of health care financing in this country, and the allocation of health care resources.

The most dramatic regional differences in beds per thousand people can be found in Ontario:

Frances Woolley
I am a Professor of Economics at Carleton University, where I have taught since 1990. My research centres on families and public policy. My most-cited work is on modelling family-decision making, measuring inequality within the household, feminist economics, and tax-benefit policy towards families. I hold a BA from Simon Fraser University, an MA from Queen’s, and completed my doctorate at the London School of Economics, under the supervision of Tony Atkinson.

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