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Huntsman Cancer Institute Says Care For Cancer Patients Could Be Delayed

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Medical professionals at the Huntsman Cancer Institute are warning Utahns that cancer care may be delayed if the current surge in COVID-19 cases continues and ICU beds remain above capacity.

“Utah’s hospitals are full, which can cause delays in cancer care,” the online message said. “We worry that if this trend continues, more cancer care may have to be delayed by hours or days until beds are open.”

The message starts with the salutation, “Dear fellow Utahns,” and is signed by the Huntsman Cancer Institute as a whole and the names of nearly 80 clinical professionals, who added their personal endorsement.

“Utahns are known for our kindness, sense of community, and dedication to helping fellow citizens,” the message went on to say. “In order to keep our patients safe, we all must do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

In the letter, the doctors, nurses and other staff members said they’ve dedicated their lives to fighting cancer and now urgently need the public’s help.

“This pandemic has taken an incredible toll on all of us, and everyone desires a sense of normalcy,” the message said. “Unfortunately, the surge of COVID-19 cases we have feared since March has now arrived.”

The message asks Utahns to please wear masks, maintain social distance, wash hands and to celebrate Thanksgiving with only the people in a household.

“Do this for your family member, neighbor or friend who needs and deserves cancer care without delay,” is the message’s final appeal.

“We are a science-driven organization,” said Lawrence Marsco, senior director of nursing at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. “We really believe in everything that the CDC has said and provided the guidance, especially for this time of year.”

As of Tuesday, ICU bed utilization across all Utah hospitals dipped to 82%, according to the state health department. That’s down from the peak of 92% at the end of last week and below the 85% threshold that indicates that Utah’s ICU beds are functionally full.

However, ICU beds are 86% occupied at the 16 Utah hospitals best equipped to care for COVID-19 patients.

“We want to be able to have that ICU bed available, but if we have so many sick COVID patients, we may not be able to offer those elective surgeries that require an ICU bed after their surgery,” Marsco explained.

Marsco said that the cancer hospital works in connection with nearby hospitals and that just having an ICU bed available does not mean that there is enough staff to care for a patient.

“So we could have capacity, but if we have sick staff and don’t have enough staff or we have tired staff, you’re not going to get the care that you deserve,” Marsco said.

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