While we hear daily about the shortage of intensive care unit beds at hospitals caused by the increasing incidence of COVID infections, a growing ethical dilemma deserves attention. There are adults in our community with long-standing heart conditions who have diligently followed their physician’s instructions to improve their diet, exercise, take their medications, and get vaccinated for COVID-19. They understood that a cardiac procedure would eventually be needed because medications could only delay that necessity for so long.
We’re now in the 19th month of the COVID-19 pandemic. Should those patients who need a cardiac procedure while ICUs are near or at capacity be denied that opportunity because the ICU is full of COVID-19 patients, most of whom declined vaccine?
Many hospitals, including PeaceHealth and Legacy, have an ethics committee to evaluate and resolve difficult health care decisions for patients and health care teams. It is time for hospitals to reserve some ICU beds for patients with non-COVID diseases needing urgent procedures and ICU care. Can the hospitals’ ethics committees address the concerns of the public and health care decision-makers about such a strategy?