Hospitals Trying to Figure Out How to Ration Ventilators as Coronavirus Cases Surge

Faced with more critically ill COVID-19 patients than equipment to treat them, New York hospitals are mapping out how they can ration care and equipment in order to save the greatest number of patients possible.

In the last two days, internal memos from a chairman of surgery at New York Presbyterian, one of the city’s largest hospital systems, raised alarms that the estimated crush of coronavirus patients within the next month would require 700 to 934 intensive-care beds, well beyond the current capacity.

The Queens branch of New York Presbyterian is actively putting together a committee to help make such critical-care determinations in an emergency, so individual doctors would know what to do at the moment it matters most. According to emails reviewed by ABC News, that hospital has already convened an “ethics committee” to address the “triage of ventilators.” In layman’s terms, that is a process that dictates how medical staff would decide which patients are assigned ventilators in the event the number of patients needing those breathing machines surpasses the number available in the hospital.

Ethics committees are not new, though few hospitals have fully functioning panels. For those committees that are in place, the types of decisions now being contemplated are almost unheard of because the questions are so rare in developed countries like the US. The whole notion of making life-or-death decisions based solely on available medical equipment is a type of thinking more common to a combat zone than a big-city medical center in urban America.

Ventilators, also known as artificial breathing machines, are considered to be the most effective way to treat patients in respiratory failure from a critical case of COVID-19 because there is no known cure for the illness.

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