Hospitals: A dire shortage of beds
Across America, nervous hospital officials are “taking stock,” said Christopher Rowland and Ariana Eunjung Cha in The Washington Post. They are “tallying hospital beds” and intensive-care units, respirators and protective gear. They’re “squeezing extra beds into break rooms and physical therapy gyms” and “erecting triage tents” outside their emergency rooms. They know that the management of for-profit hospitals has spent years cutting their supplies and bed capacity in the name of efficiency, so if the novel coronavirus were to spread in this country with the speed and in the numbers it has in Iran, Italy, and China, they will soon be overwhelmed.
“It’s a simple matter of math,” said William Wan, also in the Post. American hospitals have, in total, about a million beds, fewer than 160,000 ventilators, 64,000 adult ICU units, and a finite number of doctors and hospital staff. Assuming even a moderate rate of novel coronavirus infection would imply that 1 million people will need hospitalization and another 200,000 will require ICU-level care, according to Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. And, remember, two-thirds of those beds are already occupied at any given time with the regular patient flow. When asked this week about the number of ventilators in the U.S., said Adam Weinstein in NewRepublic.com, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it was “classified” for “national security” reasons. Trump, meanwhile, told governors to hunt for ventilators on their own. Rather than level with Americans about what we are facing, the Trump administration is still stonewalling “to conceal its own incompetence.”
The paucity of equipment may mean doctors will face “horrendously wrenching” choices in the days ahead, said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in The New York Times. With too little of everything, physicians will have no choice but to ration what is available among those most likely to survive. The tragedy of a pandemic is that “some will go without”—and be left to die. You’re already seeing this nightmare scenario play out in Italy, said Jason Horowitz, also in the Times. In the country’s hard-hit northern region around Milan, hospitals are turning away elderly patients with pneumonia and parking the sick in hallways to await care, while exhausted staff are collapsing at their posts. It’s a “grim glimpse” of what may lie ahead for Americans. ■