Live Mic: We are nearing rationing hospital care in Utah

Oct 27, 2020, 5:26 PM
SLC Mayor says hospitals have reached their breaking point with rising COVID-19 patients rationing ...
(University Hospital. Credit: Paul Nelson)
(University Hospital. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — As coronavirus cases rise in Utah, doctors warn we are moving toward full ICU capacity and with it, rationing hospital care.

As of Tuesday:

  • 5,169 hospitalizations
  • 578 deaths, up four from day earlier
  • 1,145 daily cases, averaging 1,507 new positive test results a day within past week

Rationing hospital care

A Salt Lake Tribune headline reads: “Utah’s hospitals prepare to ration care as record number of coronavirus patients flood their ICUs.

Both Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George and University of Utah Hospital have exceeded their normal ICU capacity.

In response, the state epidemiologist tweets:


On Live Mic, Lee Lonsberry reviewed Utah’s Crisis Standards of Care with quotes from Utah Hospital Association President Greg Bell and Joe Dougherty with the Division of Emergency Management.

Once the Crisis Standards of Care “are in effect, then hospitals who have no room start making decisions according to the triage set forth in the Crisis Standards of Care,” said Bell.

“Right now we are in an unsustainable trajectory of hospitalizations, of case counts,” Dougherty told Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega on KSLNewsRadio.

Beds but not medical staff

Dougherty said the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy could be used as an overflow facility for non-acute, observational care — “but you don’t always have the right certified staff available to care for people in those beds.”

“We could set it up in about a half a day,” he said of the Expo Center.

Dougherty said hospitals are setting up contingency plans, such as surge in patients, sharing patients between facilities where needed and nurses working overtime who “are doing heroic work.”

Bell echoed Dougherty’s statement on lack of staff and how it could lead to rationing hospital care.

“The problem there is we don’t have staff to fully deal with the patients in our hospitals,” he said. “We have more beds than we have skilled medical teams. How can we take those teams [already in place] and put them in another facility? It doesn’t make any sense. . . . That means you have to bring people in from outside or somehow have people working around the clock.”

Bell said the contingency plan asks doctors and nurses to work extra shifts, but expanding capacity in this way won’t work on a permanent basis.

Follow medical protocols

“People must get serious about wearing masks and social distancing,” Bell said. 

He added that if the spread of coronavirus continues, people will start withdrawing from public places, such as bars, restaurants and gyms.

“At some point, when the disease is bad enough, people start locking themselves down,” Bell said. “We can do this through masking and social distancing — we know how to do it, we can knock it down, we just need to do it.”

Rationing hospital care could be closer than we’d like to think.

“We have truly a pandemic at loose in our community and in our state, and we just know where it’s going,” Bell said. “When hospitals are talking about invoking Crisis Standards of Care, meaning not every person is going to get the optimum level of care, then that’s a huge signal to the community that we better get busy and do our part. We have to think in the next week or two that we are going to be at the maximum even of our contingency planning for ICU beds.”

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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Live Mic: We are nearing rationing hospital care in Utah