Apr 6, 2020 - Health

Health workers face life-or-death coronavirus decisions for patients

Paramedics transport a patient to the emergency room entrance of the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The looming shortage of ventilators doesn't just impact the coronavirus patients who will need one to breathe. It also creates harrowing decisions for the health care workers who may have to decide which patients get them and which ones don't.

Between the lines: Today's doctors generally have no comparable experience to draw on for making these kinds of decisions, although accredited hospitals are supposed to have some mechanism for doing so, per NPR.

By the numbers: When the coronavirus is at its peak around the middle of the month, U.S. hospitals will be about 25,000 ventilators short of expected demand, according to one estimate, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Yes, but: Doctors and other health care workers are doing everything they can to stretch limited resources, including attaching more than one patient to a single ventilator and converting anesthesia machines to serve as ventilators.

The bottom line: If the numbers bear out, health care workers will still likely have to make horrible decisions about who receives a ventilator and who doesn't — decisions that mean life or death for patients.

  • In Italy, the situation deteriorated to the point where doctors were advised to prioritize younger, healthier patients, per Politico.

Case in point: NYU Langone Health told emergency room doctors last month that they have "sole discretion" to place patients on ventilators, and that the hospital supports withholding "futile intubations," WSJ writes.

What to watch: New York City could run out of ventilators by Tuesday or Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said yesterday, per WSJ.

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