COVID-19 Reveals A Deadly Failure of Priorities


With the looming and imminent threat of insufficient hospital and ICU beds, medical equipment and healthcare staff, I found myself recalling an old favorite TV show from my college years. MASH (mobile army surgical hospital) created both comedy and drama around the reality of having three operating room beds in an army tent on the war front in South Korea. Triage was part of the routine, determining who gets on the operating table first, and who gets the best surgeon (Hawkeye) of the four in the unit. Now and then, when the frontlines had faced a heavy attack and massive casualties poured in, the plot explicitly focused on triage situations. Hawkeye always struggled to do the right thing.

COVID-19 is leading to more and more news reports on the fast approaching reality that the demand for hospital beds and ventilators will exceed supply. New York’s Governor Cuomo was carried on MSNBC yesterday and today, discussing this crisis.

A few years ago, NDY’s research analyst, Stephen Drake (aka my husband, now retired), reviewed New York’s Ventilator Allocation Guidelines, released in 2015. The pandemic guidelines operate on the principles of triage.

The primary goal of the Guidelines is to save the most lives in an influenza pandemic where there are a limited number of available ventilators. To accomplish this goal, patients for whom ventilator therapy would most likely be lifesaving are prioritized. The Guidelines define survival by examining a patient’s short-term likelihood of surviving the acute medical episode and not by focusing on whether the patient may survive a given illness or disease in the longterm (e.g., years after the pandemic). Patients with the highest probability of mortality without medical intervention, along with patients with the smallest probability of mortality with medical intervention, have the lowest level of access to ventilator therapy. Thus, patients who are most likely to survive without the ventilator, together with patients who will most likely survive with ventilator therapy, increase the overall number of survivors…

This pandemic resource shortage will touch people who previously felt safe from healthcare rationing. How we treat people in need is a reflection of the priorities of the policymakers we elect. All too often, the voices of people with disabilities and other justice communities have been drowned out. Perhaps the unnecessary loss of life from this pandemic due to healthcare capacity limits will cause others to join with us in re-evaluating the priorities that got us here.

Read more at Not Dead Yet…

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