OBJECTIVE: To examine the characteristics of acute-care hospitals that report registered nurse shortages when a widespread shortage exists and when a widespread shortage is no longer evident. DATA SOURCE: Secondary data from the American Hospital Association's Nursing Personnel Survey from 1990 and 1992 were used. The study population was all acute-care hospitals in the United States. STUDY DESIGN: Outcome variables included whether a hospital experienced a shortage in 1990, when many hospitals reported a nursing shortage, or whether a hospital reported a shortage in both 1990 and 1992. Predictor variables included environmental, patient, and institutional characteristics. Associations between predictor and outcome variables were investigated using probit analyses. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Location in the South, a high percentage of nonwhite county residents, a high percentage of patients with Medicaid or Medicare as payer, a higher patient acuity, and use of team or functional nursing care delivery consistently predicted hospitals reporting shortages both when there was a widespread shortage and when there was no widespread shortage. CONCLUSIONS: Although some characteristics under the direct control of hospitals, such as nursing care delivery model, are associated with their reporting a shortage of nurses, shortage is also strongly associated with broader population characteristics such as minority communities and a public insurance payer mix. Awareness of these broader factors may help inform policies to improve the distribution of nurse supply.