With new coronavirus cases shattering records on a daily basis, Utah’s hospitals are expected to begin rationing care in a week or two.
That’s the prediction of Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association, who said administrators of the state’s hospitals confronted Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday with a grim list: Criteria they propose doctors should use if they are forced to decide which patients can stay in overcrowded intensive care units.
Under the criteria, which would require Herbert’s approval, patients who are getting worse despite receiving intensive care would be moved out first. In the event that two patients' conditions are equal, the young get priority over the old, since older patients are more likely to die.
‘We told him, ‘It looks like we’re going to have to request those be activated if this trend continues,’" Bell recounted, “'and we see no reason why it won’t.'"
Hospitalizations normally rise after the number of new cases increases, and Utah repeatedly set new records for daily case totals last week. At least two Utah hospitals have opened overflow ICUs this month.
The state’s hospitals can shift patients around to free up bed space, Bell said, and the state has long planned to open a field hospital at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy if necessary.
But one of the defining features of intensive care is access to doctors and nurses with specialty training — and opening new beds does not mean those health care workers can staff them.
Bell said it’s now all but inevitable that hospitals will need to enact their triage protocols, known as “crisis standards of care.”
“I haven’t said, ‘It’s gonna happen’ — until [Thursday] night,” Bell said. “I told the governor, ‘It’s gonna happen. We’re going to be back here asking for crisis standards.’ ”