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‘We Are Rationing Care’: Overcrowding in Hospitals Also Causing Rise in Non-COVID Patient Deaths

COVID-19 is now killing Americans who haven’t even contracted the disease.

The spread of the Delta Variant through unvaccinated populations across the country, which has also seen a rise in vaccinated people contracting COVID19, is leading to overcrowded hospitals unable to care for those patients seeking non-COVID-related care. The lack of ICU beds has now led to a new spike in patient deaths that may not be caused by the Coronavirus but were still caused as a by-product of the rampant virus.

PORTLAND, OR – DECEMBER 16: A healthcare worker displays a COVID-19 vaccine record card at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center on December 16, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. The first rounds of Pfizer’s vaccine were administered in Oregon on Wednesday. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Hospitals are short-staffed, with many providers having left due to burnout. And a crucial part of the system, being able to transfer patients or divert incoming patients to other hospitals when crowded, is broken, state officials, health care workers, and executives agree. That’s because, within many hospitals, intensive-care units and emergency departments have no room for transfers and are full to capacity. Already having paid retention bonuses and taken other steps to help workers feeling burned out and overwhelmed, hospitals have also run through the federal funds they received in 2020 that were used to keep their doors open to patients during the pandemic. The deadline to spend those funds was earlier this year, so they are not available to hospitals now, causing even more issues in patient care.

Nurses in small hospitals pride themselves in providing a quality of care just as high as provided by their larger counterparts, but the effect of short-staffing in smaller hospitals can be larger. In a small intensive-care unit filled with intubated patients, a sick day for a single nurse can create a “dangerous” situation if other trained staff isn’t available.

Some health experts say the system is almost at a point where the quality of care is being compromised, but other health care professionals say things are well past that point. Patients that have cancer, heart disease, neurological disease, and other life-threatening illnesses require surgeries that are necessary to preserve life and function, and they’re being delayed.

One doctor in Oregon now says they are “rationing care”.

“Only patients that have the most severe needs for surgical care are getting that care in our hospitals today. And many, many, many more are waiting,” said Dr. Jeff Abalone, the top physician for St. Charles Health System.



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