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The Impact of the Coronavirus Crisis on Medical Care

March 31, 2020
Contributors

The Shortage of ICU Beds, Supplies, and Providers

Governor Andrew Cuomo explained in a news conference on March 17, 2020, that New York has 3,000 intensive care unit (ICU) beds in the entire state. ICU patients typically need mechanical ventilator assistance with breathing (meaning they struggle to breathe on their own) and continuous monitoring by staff. New York State has on hand between approximately 5,000 and 6,000 ventilators in total.

At any given time, approximately 80% of ICU beds are used by sick patients in the state (think of people with blood infections or bad pneumonia).

This means, on average, on any given day only 600 ICU beds are available in New York State for patients who develop severe symptoms such as shortness of breath due to coronavirus.

Governor Cuomo anticipates thatNew York State will need between 18,600 and 37,200 ICU beds in the comingmonths to care for coronavirus patients. This is between 31 and 62 times whatis typically available on any given day in the state and between 3 and 6 timesthe number of ventilators available in New York. In other words, thecoronavirus’ impact is going to be one that our current health care system isnot equipped to handle.

Coronavirus also impacts many other aspects of our healthcare system, including a shortage of both medical supplies and medical providers. Lack of medical supplies increases the risk of exposure for health care providers which will lead to a further reduction in those who can provide care. This means people who need care won’t be able to get it. This will impact everyone who needs medical care, not just those suffering from the coronavirus.

But the shortage of ICU beds is perhaps the most ominous, as having an ICU bed and a mechanical ventilator to help one breathe will mean the difference between life and death for many patients.

What Does This Mean for Your Healthcare?

Many clinical offices are closing,scaling back visits, or doing remote (telephonic or Skype-like) visits. Thefear is that patients coming in increase the risk of spread, which increasesthe number of sick people, which increases the need for hospital beds, which arealready in short supply.

Many elective procedures (kneereplacements, tummy tucks, etc.) were recently ordered to be canceled byGovernor Cuomo. Masks, gloves, syringes, gowns, and the like are used inroutine office visits and during elective procedures, but many of these itemsare going to be needed in the near future and there is a real fear of runningshort on medical supplies.

Doctors are asking patients to use their best judgment about seeking medical care. They are concerned that if you go to an emergency room or clinic, and you don’t require in-person medical attention, you may be unnecessarily exposing yourself, your loved ones, and others to the virus.

We are hearing from medical providers that emergency rooms are currently very full and chaotic given the circumstances.

If you have a loved one who ishospitalized, your ability to visit them will be limited, or perhaps completelycurtailed. One hospital that we know of is not allowing in any visitors forfear that they could unwittingly bring in the virus, which is highly contagious,and expose those hospitalized - the most vulnerable - as well as medicalproviders.

These are difficult and unprecedented times. Our actions in regard to health care impact many people given the lack of beds, resources, and providers. We are all in this together. The health care system is going to be strained to its limit and we all will be impacted in one way or another.

Stay healthy and be well.