Los Angeles hospitals could begin rationing care

As Los Angeles hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, hospitals may begin rationing care and would force healthcare providers to determine the type of care a patient will receive based on available resources.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, even a conservative estimate shows that the health needs created by the pandemic go well beyond the capacity of U.S. hospitals.

In May of this year, the NEJM was already warning that unless the curve of infected individuals was flattened over a very long period of time the COVID-19 pandemic would likely cause a shortage of hospital beds. And it would also affect the availability of healthcare workers, since doctors and nurses would also get sick.

Seven months later, this is now a stark reality.

When you ask Dr. Kimberly Shriner from Pasadena's Huntington Hospital about their plan for medical rationing, the first thing she’ll tell you is they’re not there yet, but they are planning and even told the community in a letter what they were doing to be transparent about what could happen.

The infectious disease specialist told us, "Every hospital has a scarce resource policy that we’ve had for years in anticipation and perhaps dread of an event like this."

Shriner says their "Scarce Resource Policy" could kick in when any number of supplies are in short supply. It could be, she says, "a shortage of equipment, a shortage of beds, a shortage of ventilators; a shortage of medications..." that could trigger rationing.

First and foremost she says, no doctor or nurse would make a decision but a committee of people, The Scarce Resource Committee, would. No one who was caring for the patient could be involved in that decision.

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Shriner says the committee would be "made up of a bioethicist, a physician, a nurse and a community member. And none of those people are involved in the care of the patient that’s being considered for that issue."

She also says that no committee members will know about a patient’s race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, insurance, or other information unrelated to the patient’s health.

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We reached out to others at Providence Holy Cross and their concerns are the same.

"I do think we are at a very dangerous trend where we continue to see COVID admissions increase and we are seeing shortages in key areas but I don’t think it’s imminent at this point in time. Nevertheless, we are preparing," says Dr. Bernie Klein the Medical Center’s CEO.

Again, preparing but no one has actually implemented medical care rationing yet.

FOX 11's Gigi Graciette and Kelli Johnson contributed to this report.