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Hospitals Could Ration Care, Activate ‘Crisis Standards Of Care’

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – After an alarming surge of COVID-19 cases in the state, the Utah Department of Public Safety and hospitals are talking about the next critical steps.

If the pressure on Utah’s hospitals continues, state leaders said they will activate their emergency plan for crisis care.

The Utah Crisis Standards of Care is a nine-page blueprint for how hospitals would function if they end up with more patients than they can treat. Officials with the Utah Hospital Association has warned the state’s hospitals may have to start rationing care, and this is the plan they would use.

“It’s very clear that we are in an alarming state right now with the number of people who are hospitalized,” said Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety.

If it continues, the Utah Hospital Association may ask the state to activate the Utah Crisis Standards of Care in the next couple of weeks.

“This is a plan that is meant to be used only temporarily, and really to make sure that people are getting the greatest care for the greatest number of people,” said Dougherty.

Age is a factor, but not the only one, he said. The plan weighs ethical and moral decisions in addition to logistical concerns and brings families in on the decision making.

“We can provide more bed spaces, but we don’t magically make more people up here for the people who need it,” he said.

Utah hospitals are trying to balance the number of patients with beds and staffing, often moving a patient from one hospital to another.

“They will be getting some great care because we have one of the best hospital systems in the United States,” said Dougherty. “We’re confident that people will still get care. It just may not be the highest level of care.”

The state is also using three long-term care facilities exclusively for COVID-19 patients that don’t need to be in the intensive care unit.

“That was part of the contingency plans before we ever get to the crisis standards of care,” said Dougherty. “We’ve been using these facilities: they all have a couple of dozen patients there.”

Initially, those long-term care facilities were used to treat patients from other long-term care facilities. Now, they’re also needed for COVID-19 patients who do not need intensive care.

“They are only there if they have COVID. They have no non-COVID patients in that facility,” said Dr. Michelle Hofmann. She is the physician lead overseeing contracting and operations at the COVID-19 dedicated nursing facilities in Salt Lake City, Ogden, and St. George on behalf of the Utah Department of Health.

“It became as important for offloading hospitals as it is for allowing lateral movement from a facility that previously had no cases into a place that is highly dedicated and specialized to caring for people with COVID-19,” said Hofmann.

“Everyone has the ability to help turn the tide right now by choosing to limit your social gatherings, by choosing to wear a mask wherever you go,” said Dougherty.

The state could also use the Mountain America Expo Center as a field hospital for non-COVID-19 patients to help relieve pressure on the hospitals.

You can read the state’s comprehensive Utah Crisis Standards of Care plan online. Other information on COVID-19 resources can be found at the state’s comprehensive coronavirus website.

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