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'this is an everyone issue'

'It's approaching apocalyptic': How the dearth of ICU beds is threatening non-COVID patients

Non-COVID-19 patients, crowded out of overwhelmed hospitals and emergency rooms by critically ill COVID patients, have become something of "collateral damage" in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, unable to seek timely treatment while ERs frantically try and locate them "a bed that may be hundreds of miles away," reports ProPublica

In fact, "some health officials now worry about looming ethical decisions" that could arise under the circumstances, including instances when an ICU bed may be given to a patient most likely to survive, and denied to one who might not. "This is not just a COVID issue," said Dr. Normaliz Rodriguez, pediatric emergency physician at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in Florida. "This is an everyone issue."

The worrying development differs from previous waves of the pandemic because the Delta variant is enveloping "swaths of low-vaccination states all at once," making it "harder to find nearby hospitals that are not slammed," writes ProPublica. For instance, in Georgia, "62% of the ICU beds are now filled with just COVID-19 patients. In Texas, the percentage is nearly half." 

The number of hospitalized children is also on the rise, "setting up the same type of competition for resources between young COVID-19 patients and those with other illnesses," writes ProPublica. As a result of the influx, some officials say wait times can now be "measured in days."

Dr. Hasan Kakli, an ER physician in Bellville, Texas, said the dedication of so many ICU beds to a single diagnosis is "unheard of." "It's approaching apocalyptic," he added. For example, in the case of a patient who died of gallstone pancreatitis after an hours-long scramble to find an ICU bed, an admission delay could have made an impact. "If he had 40 minutes to wait instead of six hours, I strongly believe he would have had a different outcome," said Kakli. Read more at ProPublica.