OBJECTIVE. The timely discharge of moderately premature infants has important economic implications. The decision to discharge should occur independent of unit census. We evaluated the impact of unit census on the decision to discharge moderately preterm infants.

DESIGN/METHODS. In a prospective multicenter cohort study, we enrolled 850 infants born between 30 and 34 weeks' gestation at 10 NICUs in Massachusetts and California. We divided the daily census from each hospital into quintiles and tested whether discharges were evenly distributed among them. Using logistic regression, we analyzed predictors of discharge within census quintiles associated with a greater- or less-than-expected likelihood of discharge. We then explored parental satisfaction and postdischarge resource consumption in relation to discharge during census periods that were associated with high proportions of discharge.

RESULTS. There was a significant correlation between unit census and likelihood of discharge. When unit census was in the lowest quintile, patients were 20% less likely to be discharged when compared with all of the other quintiles of unit census. In the lowest quintile of unit census, patient/nurse ratio was the only variable associated with discharge. When census was in the highest quintile, patients were 32% more likely to be discharged when compared with all of the other quintiles of unit census. For patients in this quintile, a higher patient/nurse ratio increased the likelihood of discharge. Conversely, infants with prolonged lengths of stay, an increasing Score for Neonatal Acute Physiology II, and minor congenital anomalies were less likely to be discharged. Infants discharged at high unit census did not differ from their peers in terms of parental satisfaction, emergency department visits, home nurse visits, or rehospitalization rates.

CONCLUSIONS. Discharges are closely correlated with unit census. Providers incorporate demand and case mix into their discharge decisions.

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