By Judy Peterson

The skyrocketing numbers of coronavirus patients means the nation’s ventilator supply is being stretched to capacity and beyond, and the media is reporting that doctors in some areas may have to decide who gets a ventilator and who does not.

Healthcare rationing isn’t supposed to happen in the United States.

But consider this: NBC News is reporting that paramedics in New York City were told if patients don’t have a pulse, don’t bring them to the hospital to be revived.

And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warns that his state is running out of life-saving ventilators.

Now dial back to early March, when hard-hit Italy was reportedly prioritizing young coronavirus patients over elderly patients who were less likely to recover.

The head of medical ethics at New York University’s School of Medicine, Arthur Caplan, told Business Insider that “would not fly” in the U.S.

“It is very hard to just prioritize the young over the old,” Caplan said. “People would protest the idea that young lives are worth more inherently than older lives.”

The issue of healthcare rationing was addressed recently by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

A March 28 bulletin says, “…persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgement’s about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities or age.”

California healthcare providers are reminded that healthcare discrimination is prohibited in the U.S. There’s a good set of guidelines that physicians follow. Add to the guidelines, the training that physicians receive. They are trained to know if a certain person is going to make it or if a person’s outcome is not going to be good. Deciding to withhold care is a decision that’s made with the family included, and with the physician and the overall medical team included.

Santa Clara County is working hard to ensure that such decisions will be unnecessary, but there won’t be a need for such a decision if we all abide by stay at home orders.

The County is now providing a daily overview of the number of ventilators and hospital beds available countywide with this online “dashboard.”

On April 22, the dashboard showed 191 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, 186 ventilators in use, 671 were available; 771 “floor” and surgical hospital beds were in use, 665 were available; 134 ICU beds were in use, 105 were available; and 17 “surge” beds were in use, leaving 1,617 available. Surge beds are beds that may be made available in a mass event.

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