Most hospitals are pretty orderly places when they're fully active. True, people sicken, suffer and die all the time, but everything is arranged so that contagious individuals can be safely quarantined and corpses can be stored down in the morgue with the bare minimum of fuss. Unfortunately, in the event of a natural disaster, a plague, a war, a spectacular economic crisis, or maybe just a problem Inherent in the System, the orderly nature of a hospital begins to break down — giving way to this trope.
Essentially the larval form of the Abandoned Hospital, conditions in this facility are clearly dire: resources are rapidly dwindling, the staff are overworked, space is so limited that patients may be forced to sleep in corridors, and the morgue is overflowing with corpses — sometimes to the point where the authorities are forced to start digging mass graves. In worst-case scenarios featuring plague, the building itself may become a colossal infection vector, transmitting the disease to the few patients who weren't infected.
How far this goes can vary: in more optimistic stories, the crisis may abate, the patients can be saved and everything will return to normal; more cynical stories may feature this becoming the norm in a decaying city. In the darkest of conclusions, the patients and staff alike will end up dead to the last man, or escape the place, leaving the building a true Abandoned Hospital.
While the place is still open, Meat Grinder Surgery may be involved, especially if it's a field hospital. May overlap with the Back-Alley Doctor, if said doctor is working in bulk. By this trope's very nature, expect a healthy dose of Nightmare Fuel, Squick, Tear Jerker and/or Nausea Fuel.
- Pokémon: In the episode "A Chansey Operation", Ash and his friends arrive to a town's local hospital (for humans) which is quickly filled to the point of almost collapsing because of a massive disaster that leaves hundreds of Pokemon injured, forcing the Pokecenter (which suffers a similar problem off-screen) to send Pokemon there. Ash, his friends, the hospital's Chansey and the only doctor on staff have to deal with healing injuries, preventing the hospital's power from going out, and fighting off Team Rocket when they try to steal all of the patients.
- In the Big Finish Doctor Who episode "Enemy Of The Daleks," the research base's infirmary at first appears to be functioning perfectly - up until you notice the locked ward for victims of the recent viral outbreak: unable to treat these patients, the Sistermatic medical droid has been forced to simply leave them there under strict quarantine. By the time the Doctor arrives, the base personnel are all dead or dying with the exception of Professor Shimura, and most of the bodies have been dumped outside in a mass grave. It turns out that the "virus" is a hoax: Professor Shimura has been using his research staff as hosts for Kiseibya larvae, and is keeping his surviving ex-colleagues under lock and key while the larvae slowly eat them alive.
- As the mysterious waterborne illness continues to wreak havoc in The Bay, Claridge's hospital is quickly overwhelmed with the sheer number of infected individuals. Though it's a fully-equipped facility, the doctors don't know how to treat the epidemic short of amputating critically-damaged limbs, and there simply aren't enough staff members to deal with the influx of victims. Consequently, waiting rooms are all but overflowing with patients in agony. By the time the CDC manages to figure out that the "disease" is actually a plague of aquatic parasites eating the victims from the inside it's too late to be of any help: by then, most of the staff have run for their lives, the patients are dead or dying, Claridge has become a Ghost Town, and there's nothing the lone remaining physician can do about it. Before long, he begins exhibiting symptoms as well and presumably dies offscreen.
- In A Bridge Too Far, Kate Ter Horst lets her home be used for tending wounded British paratroopers during Operation Market Garden. Soon, the house becomes so overcrowded and short of supplies that the British arrange to release their wounded into German captivity to give them a better chance at survival. Also, earlier in the film an American sergeant holds a US Army doctor at gunpoint to operate on his heavily-wounded commanding officer (James Caan turned down the offer for his role until he read about that particular scene).
- In The Blue Max, Bruno is taken to an empty room in a hospital in Berlin for a photo op; however, thanks to the current intensity of the war, the hospital is packed to the bursting point with casualties: there are patients being operated on in hallways and waiting rooms, several of them without anaesthesia and what looks to be fairly basic levels of care. It's so crowded that Bruno can barely get in, and he apologizes to the nurse in attendance for taking up an entire room and wasting her time.
- In Carriers the main characters head to a Safe Zone Hope Spot where a cure for The Virus is rumored to have been developed, only to discover a hospital at the very end of this trope; despite being developed internationally with other survivors across the world, the serum was a failure that only managed to extend the life of the infected for a few days, the hospital is surrounded by overflowing garbage trucks full of body bags, and even more piled up around them, and the inside is even worse, with corpses littering the hallways. The only survivor is a Sole Surviving Scientist and a group of children, all of whom are infected too, and the scientist is preparing to euthanise them and himself.
- The Richard Pryor film Critical Condition involves Pryor's character faking an Insanity Defense to avoid being killed by The Mafia and then escaping the hospital's psych wing by pretending to be a doctor... only to end up being trapped inside said hospital when a massive hurricane makes landfall (flooding all surrounding roads) and all of the townsfolk injured by the storm arrive for treatment; the hospital is so overwhelmed that the skeleton crew ask him to help.
- Downplayed in Cloverfield: The group are taken to a makeshift field hospital bursting with wounded soldiers being treated ASAP; however, rather than treating people who've been bitten by the crawling monsters, all the medical personnel can do is stand by and wait for the Ludicrous Gibs.
- Following the nuclear attack in The Day After, the Kansas University hospital is overrun with patients. Plus, because it was only a campus hospital prior to the war, supplies are already limited, and thanks to the EMP, working electrical appliances are in short supply. On the upside, they at least have the experienced Dr. Oakes to take charge. Unfortunately, it doesn't improve much: as time goes on, the morgue is abandoned in favor of mass graves, lack of clean water runs the risk of spreading cholera, fights break out over the remaining food, and the population skyrockets. Ultimately, the hospital's relative functionality is its downfall: once people realize that there's a working medical facility, people flock to it in droves, turning the place into a refugee camp and making the situation even harder to control. By the end, patients are being kept on the campus basketball courts, and a triage system is in place to prevent radiation victims like Denise Dahlberg from receiving treatment that could be better spent on patients who stand a chance of surviving. Then Dr. Oakes begins to succumb to radiation sickness, inspiring him to leave in the hopes of seeing what's left of his home before he dies. Still doing better than the hospital in Threads, which doesn't even approach functional...
- Downfall shows several scenes where wounded German soldiers and civilians alike are crowded into cramped field hospitals set up inside overcrowded bomb shelters while the Battle of Berlin rages all around them, complete with desperate officers calling up anyone who can provide morphine and other critically limited supplies, and amputating wounded soldiers without anesthetics.
- Godzilla: Immediately after Godzilla's rampage throughout the city were treated to a sight most of its successors would ignore namely a somber sequence showcasing the local hospital overwhelmed by the destruction of its attack. The place is so overcrowded that most of the patients are forced to lie on the floors, with vehicles constantly arriving to bring more, and the staff are utterly overwhelmed despite their best intentions. As well as the conventionally injured, we're shown numerous patients suffering from massive agonizing radiation burns and an utterly silent moment where a doctor holds a Geiger counter up to a tiny child to confirm he's radioactive and there is nothing they can do for him.
- Gone with the Wind: One of the most iconic scenes of the film, following the disastrous battle of Atlanta, shows a massive field hospital where hundreds of wounded Confederate soldiers are treated with whatever few resources are availible. Melanie goes into labor during this crisis, and because all the doctors left in the city are busy with the soldiers, she's forced to give birth with only the help of Scarlett and a slave named Prissy.
- The Organic Mechanic's corner of the Citadel in Mad Max: Fury Road can barely qualify as a surgery, much less a hospital: it's squeezed into a hallway, with the patients and donors set up on stone steps, scant inches from being trodden on by passers-by. Needless to say, it's hardly sterile, and not helped by the fact that the Mechanic is demented even by post-apocalyptic standards; also, the War Boys are notoriously contemptuous towards the weak and infirm. The most reliable medical service available is in the form of "blood bags" - healthy captives hung from the ceiling and forced to serve as living blood donors for ailing War Boys. As a universal donor, Max himself ends up here after being captured at the start of the film, and might have been drained to death if Nux hadn't decided to bring his blood bag with him on the chase to capture Furiosa.
- In Outbreak, this is the inevitable condition of any hospital in an area hit by the Motaba virus, as no less than three examples in the film aptly demonstrate.
- The first is a field hospital in Zaire, 1967; overrun with cases of the virus, forty-eight people have already died in the last two days, and conditions are dire even without the place being in the middle of a war zone. With no morgue or graveyard available, bodies are dumped outside under a tarpaulin. General McClintock has the place bombed to prevent the disease from spreading. And to hide the existence of the virus so he could acquire it as a biological weapon.
- The second is another field hospital in modern Zaire, this time built around a peacetime village. By the time the USAMRIID team get there to investigate, the virus has killed just about everyone in the building and left them as breeding grounds for the flies - a sight that prompts Major Salt to vomit in his hazmat suit. The only surviving inhabitant who isn't infected is the attending physician.
- The worst is the local hospital at Cedar Creek, California: here, the virus mutates into an airborne form, so it spreads quickly through the ventilation ducts and into wards for uninfected patients. By the end, the hospital has gotten so crowded the military have been forced to expand their treatment center from the hospital into other buildings - and eventually outdoors into a field hospital; the mortality rate is so vicious that the bodies have to be burned to save space. McClintock plans to have the town bombed as well, both to prevent it from breaking quarantine and to preserve Motaba as a bioweapon.
- In Pearl Harbor, during the Japanese attack on the eponymous location, the nurses rush to the hospital where the sheer quantity of wounded soldiers, sailors, and marines quickly overwhelm the hospital's resources. As a result, the medics order the nurses to not treat the men who are critically wounded, and concentrate on the ones that have a higher chance of survival.
- Planet Terror: El Wray notices the hospital is becoming this when he brings Cherry to the emergency room, dozens of listless people sitting around with pustules and lesions sprouting from their skin; it's a sign that the DC-2 bioweapon is affecting the town.
- In Stalingrad, the squad take one of their wounded to a field hospital that's been set up in the basement of a large building; not only is it positively overflowing with patients, the staff there is so completely overworked that one of the soldiers has to force a doctor at gunpoint to operate on the wounded soldier they brought there.
- The film's narration makes it clear that the lack of drugs, bandages, clean water or electricity make it just about impossible for the doctors to help anyone in the aftermath of the nuclear attack. Consequently, the hospital focussed on sixteen days after the blast is a filthy, gloomy, hopelessly-overcrowded ruin where wounded citizens queue in crushing conditions and ill-equipped surgeons are forced to improvise what little treatment they can: bandages are made from torn sheets, glass is picked from open wounds with tweezers, table salt is used in place of antibiotics, and infected limbs are sawed off without anaesthetic.
- The makeshift hospital encountered thirteen years after the blast is, if anything, even worse. It looks like it's been assembled in what's left of a public toilet, one attending nurse can barely bring herself to look after her patients, and the patients are given very little supervision. Some time after being raped, Jane comes here to give birth, and does so - again - with no anaesthetic and no assistance beyond swaddling the baby; the child is stillborn, by the way.
- Heinz G Konsalik's novel Der Arzt von Stalingrad ("Stalingrad Doctor") fictionalizes the experience of a German Army doctor called Fritz Bohler (based on a real doctor who tried to keep some sort of medical service going during the Stalingrad siege). As the Battle of Stalingrad dragged on and conditions grew grimmer for the Germans, there are lots of descriptions of overflowing field hospitals with decreasing supplies available to treat the wounded.
- In Mockingjay, the hospital held by the rebels in District Eight is hopelessly overcrowded by patients. Katniss complains they shouldn't be cramped but is told they didn't have enough resources to isolate patients. This happens just before Snow's forces bomb it.
- The Veruline Hospital in Perdido Street Station. Originally a mental hospital for the rich, it went through a dozen different owners and purposes before finally being reopened as a charity hospital by the Veruline Order... but with no actual doctors on hand except when conscience allows it, no money to pay for drugs, and only a staff of untrained monks and nuns on hand, it's not even equipped to provide the most basic forms of treatment. Consequently, the Veruline Hospital is universally known as the place where the poor go to die - and yet another shining example of the quality of life in New Crobuzon. Derkhan goes here in the climax of the story to search for a terminally-ill patient that Isaac can use as The Bait to lure out the Slake-Moths.
- In The Stand, Larry takes his mother to a hospital which is overflowing with Superflu patients; many of the staff are themselves infected. When his mother dies and he can't get anyone's attention, he writes her name and age on a piece of paper, pins it to her clothes, and then leaves the hospital.
- Newscaster Bob Palmer airs some clandestinely-filmed footage of Boston General Hospital showing cramped wards and patients lying on the floor. The nurses present are either crying hysterically, "obviously sick themselves", or looking "shocked to the point of coma."
- Max Brooks noted this in The Zombie Survival Guide, saying that hospitals are among the last places one should be during the Zombie Apocalypse, as that is where everybody who's been bitten will be taken to have their injuries treated. As such, most of the first large-scale zombie outbreaks would logically involve hordes of zombies pouring out of hospitals. His follow-up World War Z also features an interview with a Brazilian doctor whose hospital was overrun by zombies in the early stages of Brazil's zombie outbreak.
- Briarcliff Manor of American Horror Story: Asylum originally started out as a hospital for tuberculosis patients, where it quickly became known as one of these during TB epidemics: overcrowding and death were so common that Dr. Arden reports that they'd sometimes end up disposing of more than a hundred corpses a week. Worse still, the virulence of the disease meant that some of the victims actually included members of the nursing staff. A combination of public apathy and a high death toll meant that it was safer to simply cremate the bodies on site rather than burying them, to the point that a specially-designed "Death Chute" was built to transport bodies to the crematorium. Eventually, the development of antibiotics gradually made TB-exclusive wards obsolete, prompting the Catholic Church to have Briarcliff redeveloped as a mental hospital... but thanks to Dr. Arden's work, the Death Chute still gets plenty of use in the present.
- In Band of Brothers, the 101st Airborne's field hospital in Bastogne is not only overflowing with patients, but there's a chronic lack of supplies: the Germans have completely surrounded the 101st and cut them off from land-based resupply, and the weather is too bad for Allied aircraft to drop supplies to them.
- On the morning after Reactor #4 explodes in Chernobyl, casualties begin arriving at Pripyat's hospital in huge numbers, including power plant engineers, local firefighters, and even ordinary citizens who had the bad luck of being downwind of the burning reactor. All of them are suffering from the initial stages of radiation exposure, and with no safety gear on hand, it's not long before the nurses begin suffering radiation burns as well. Eventually, the place is so crowded that patients are forced to wait out in the corridors, and guards are placed at the front entrance to prevent concerned relatives from investigating. The worst-affected patients, including Dyatlov, Akimov, Toptunov and Vasily, are eventually airlifted to Moscow for better treatment, where the latter three ultimately die in agony. The rest either die or are evacuated with the rest of Pripyat's civilian populace.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Empty Child", the Albion Hospital ends up being struck by an inexplicable plague during the height of the London Blitz. Patient Zero was a four-year-old child with a gas-mask fused to his face and a host of apparently lethal injuries; within a day, doctors and nurses who'd touched him were all manifesting the same wounds; within a week, the entire hospital was overrun with catatonic bodies sporting identically masked faces. The only thing that stops this from being a straight-up example of an Abandoned Hospital is the fact that Dr. Constantine is still on duty when the Doctor pays a visit... and the fact that the patients aren't dead.
- This is the premise of M*A*S*H, with the main cast having to deal with punishing waves of casualties, miserable sanitary conditions, and periodic shortages of supplies such as medicine, blood and bandages. Occasionally, an episode will have one or more of the staff having to go help at a front-line aid station, where conditions are even worse because on top of the same issues those positions are also constantly under attack by North Korean forces.
- The Ori Plague in Stargate SG-1 quickly results in every medical facility (official or otherwise) being transformed into these: due to the sheer contagiousness of the disease, infectees rapidly overwhelm the confines of buildings, leaving the sick bay at Cheyenne Mountain full to bursting point during "The Fourth Horseman, Part 2", and forcing the modest field hospital in "The Powers That Be" to start moving the patients outdoors — and thanks to the mortality rate, it's not long before they're forced to start leaving the bodies there too. In the end, it can only be healed by a Prior of the Ori — either due to the entire population submitting to the worship of the Ori, or due to a last-minute HeelFace Turn.
- The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Critical Care" largely takes place in an alien hospital where the Doctor (having been abducted) is put to work. The hospital is divided into different levels to treat different patients depending on their assumed value to society; Level Red, which is for the common rabble, fits the trope description — overcrowded, insufficient resources, people dying left and right. Then there's Level Blue, for the societal elite, which is the exact opposite — clean, spacious, and providing excellent care for even minor maladies. Naturally, the Doctor is appalled at this stratification especially when he sees that life-saving medication for Level Red patients is being diverted to Level Blue patients who will get at best a marginal benefit from it, the slight comfort of the elite is worth more than the life of the poor.
- In the Torchwood first-season finale episode "End of Days", Cardiff A&E finds itself facing this predicament after the Rift disgorges a woman from the 14th century into the middle of the hospital: she's carrying Bubonic Plague, and the disease quickly spreads to the staff and the patients. Thankfully, the hospital is still functioning well enough to have all forty victims quarantined and accessed only by doctors in HAZMAT suits... but it's made clear that it might not have been enough. Worse still, the Rift may spit out other disease carriers from across history, meaning that if the situation continues, Cardiff A&E will be completely overrun.
- In The End of the World: Wrath Of The Machines, the scenario "Logical Conclusions" feature hospitals being overwhelmed with casualties from the battles between cyborgs and Gladius combat robots, especially once the cyborgs escalate to waging war on humanity. By the end of the apocalyptic half of this scenario, staff are pushed to the limits. As such, the "Emergency Room" is a rich source of encounters and events - the most worrying of which involves the cyborgs attempting to use the hospital as a potential site for recruiting and converting new members.
- Bioshock 2 features a surprise example in Persephone's infirmary: up until now, most healthcare facilities like the Medical Pavilion have been effectively abandoned except for the Splicers using them as playground. Here, in the depths of Rapture's secret correctional facility, the huge infirmary wing is technically still active and comparatively functional... but priority care has been given to the huge numbers of Little Sisters in the pediatric ward, as they produce the ADAM needed to keep the Rapture Family under control. Everywhere else, patients are left to wallow in the filthy, poorly-lit wreckage of wards A and B, either suffering silently or already dead. The only doctor on duty is a crazed Houdini Splicer, who refuses to acknowledge that any of his patients are deceased.
- Fallout 3 features the journals of a nurse written right before and After the End who administered a makeshift National Guard hospital for radiation poisoning patients. Things didn't end well.
- One of the post-apocalyptic vignettes from The New Order Last Days Of Europe is an Apocalyptic Log from a doctor employed at a field hospital dealing with all the casualties of the ongoing nuclear war. Three days in and the supplies are already running dangerously low and there's no space left for new patients, but the wounded just keep pouring in. Before long, they run out of supplies and even run out of space to bury the bodies; eventually, the only workable procedure is euthanasia.
- An example that never left the drawing board, there were talks of an official prequel in the Left 4 Dead series that would show off how the Green Flu had begun, and how Mercy Hospital from the "No Mercy" campaign of the first game would eventually become ground zero for the plague spreading out into the world.
- Mass Effect 2:
- Mordin Solus is introduced running a free clinic on Omega; thanks to the outbreak of The Plague, it's become overrun with patients stricken by the disease, eating through their meagre resources and taxing the staff to its limits. He's an undeniably brilliant doctor, but there's only so much Mordin can do with barely a handful of nurses to help - hence why he needs you to disperse the cure he's manufactured into the air vents. On the upside, local gangs no longer bother the clinic thanks to Mordin's talent for violence.
- During Mordin's loyalty mission, you pay a visit to a Krogan hospital on Tuchanka where Clan Weyrlock is attempting to develop a cure for the Genophage; on top of being a hulking, gloomy bomb-shelter of a complex with more soldiers than patients, it's littered with the corpses of test subjects - both slaves forced into the experiments and volunteers hoping to be cured. By the time you get there, almost every single patient in attendance is dead - except for one sickly Krogan warrior - while the scientist in charge of the project is struggling to assemble a cure from the data assembled so far. Mass Effect 3 reveals that a small group of Krogan females were retrieved from the site by the Salarians: the lone survivor of this group becomes the key to curing the Genophage.
- Heurta Memorial Hospital in Mass Effect 3: a state-of-the-art care facility in the Citadel Presidium, the place is normally a large, spacious building with enough staff to accommodate the patients even in the face of the ongoing Reaper War. However, following the attempted coup led by Cerberus, the hospital is crowded with dozens of new patients, some of whom are forced to sleep on the floor or in corridors, and overheard conversations reveal that the nurses are overworked almost to the breaking point. For good measure, you occasionally have the opportunity to help out by providing the doctors with experimental treatment plans. If he survived the previous game, Thane Krios dies here after being mortally wounded in battle with Kai Leng.
- Dr. Varias's modest field hospital in The Secret World is clearly ill-equipped to handle the casualties from the invasion of Harbaburesti: with Mara's vampire army having forced the populace to congregate at the pub in the centre of the town, he's essentially working in a large tent behind the lines, and given the lack of medical supplies, he's using fishing wire for sutures and strong booze for disinfectant; however, many of the injuries inflicted are supernatural in nature, requiring him to become an alchemist of sorts to treat them... and several of the defenders are also supernatural beings, forcing Varias to learn a whole new system of biology just so he can keep the Fauns and Blajini in working condition.
"I haven't smoked so much, or slept so little since Medical School."
- In Black Mesa, the Fan Remake of Half-Life, you encounter an abandoned makeshift HECU field hospital in a tunnel in one of the later chapters when the HECU is slowly being overrun by Xen forces. There's a bunch of headcrab zombies there, presumably lured there by the prospect of easy prey in the form of WIA Marines.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: The abandoned hospitals that were used to treat victims of the first outbreak of The Plague are full of beds crammed close to each other, usually with their patients still in them. The beds being anything more than a mattress on the floor is optional. In one church that was converted into a hospital, there are sheet-covered skeletons on the pews.
- The Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 has produced several harrowing photographs of crowded hospitals (both military and civilian) crowded with victims of the disease. Worse still, it's believed that it was the cramped conditions — a result of casualties from World War I — that helped spread the virus even further.
- During the COVID-19 Pandemic, hospitals all over the world were overwhelmed by the sudden rise in patients. Fortunately, as countries began to implement other measures like social distancing and mandatory masks, this was able to subside in many places.
- After the explosion in the port of Beirut in August of 2020, hospitals were completely overwhelmed with patients, most needing acute treatment, not helped by the fact that hospitals closer to the blast had been decimated as well. The internet and major news outlets showed footage of doctors, nurses, even administration workers and volunteers stitching people up in the hallways.