If Utah hospitals go to rationed healthcare to deal with fast-filling ICU beds during the pandemic, it would be catastrophic for many patients, according to Stacy Stanford, healthy policy analyst with Utah Health Policy Project, which helps patients who have limited access to healthcare.
“This is something we’ve been afraid of from the beginning of this pandemic,” said Stanford.
The Utah Hospital Association said Utah hospitals are stretched thin given the record number of COVID-19 cases and the number of patients requiring hospitalization.
Hospitals along the Wasatch Front could soon be forced to decide which patients will get full treatment and which ones won’t.
Stanford said the patients who are most likely to lose out under rationed care are the ones already suffering the most during the pandemic.
If you have higher rates of people of color getting COVID and needing an ICU bed, then higher rates of people of color are going to face that care rationing. The same goes for the disabled community and for seniors,” she said.
The Utah Department of Health reports 74.4% of all the COVID-19 deaths are people over age 65. Of the 574 Utahns who’ve died from COVID, 119 are Latino/Hispanic.
Stanford said although advocates have worked to eliminate biases from standards of care in order to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities, the scenarios that could play out under rationed care are troublesome.
This is just turning up the heat in this boiling water situation. At the hospitals, it’s going to start boiling over. This is a crisis point,” she said.
Stanford said she hopes the current situation will serve as a wake-up call to all Utahns that mask-wearing and limiting big gatherings — even with family members — are key to stopping the spread of the virus and giving hospitals and worn-out hospital staff a break.
“It’s just really scary we’ve gotten to this point, and we need to do our best to reduce our burden on the healthcare system,” she said.
Brandon Ussery, a 20-year-old college student who has been a competitive skier and rock climbs regularly, said he feels troubled that people are “blowing off” mask-wearing and good habits during the pandemic.
In March, he and his mother both contracted the virus and went to the hospital as they were having trouble breathing.
“It felt like somebody had a belt around my chest and was squeezing down on it,” he said.
His mother’s breathing problems were exacerbated by the stress she felt over having the virus. Once at the hospital, they both spent several hours being treated.
Although they spent weeks recovering, he said it was a relief to know that if they needed care, the hospital had space to treat them. He worries for anyone who might need urgent hospital care right now.
“Now, it would be really scary to go because I don’t know if you’d be able to get in. It would be pretty scary not knowing if you are going to be able to get care or not,” he said.
Utah's standards of care were updated in August in response to a complaint filed by the Disability Law Center. The DLC argued those standards illegally excluded people with disabilities from accessing life-saving treatment such as ventilators, and deprioritized others based on their disabilities.
If you are denied care because of a disability, you can file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights or contact the DLC short term assistance team at 801-363-1347 or disabilitylawcenter.org.