Editorials, Opinion

Hospitals are in crisis

It was hard to watch our last home football game. Not just because the Mountaineers almost gave the game away (thank goodness for the defense), but because we watched fans packed shoulder-to-shoulder in Milan Puskar Stadium and filling Ruby Memorial’s parking lot with unmasked (and too many unvaccinated) revelers. Even Gov. Jim Justice showed up to party — unmasked.

As we look to another home game, this time against Texas Tech, we’d like our readers to understand what it means for our hospitals to be operating at “crisis-level standards of care.”

WVU Medicine announced Sept. 16 that nine of its hospitals across the state are at crisis level. All the intensive care units are full. West Virginia’s COVID case numbers are beginning to slowly drop after reaching a terrifying peak last week, but hospitalizations are increasing as ongoing infections get bad enough to need medical intervention.

In December 2020, the West Virginia Hospital Association published a framework for what should be done when hospitals reach crisis level. It says: “In the most simplistic terms, triage involves determining (1) who is unlikely to survive even with critical interventions; (2) who is likely to survive without critical care; and (3) who is likely to survive if given critical care resources. The allocation criteria should focus on the latter patients. Those with little chance for survival regardless of circumstances are entitled to and must receive appropriate palliative care.”

In a crisis state, medical centers are no longer looking at who needs the most care; medical centers are looking at who is most likely to survive.

Dr. Clay Marsh laid out the stark truth on his blog: “We have 961 COVID-19 infected people in our hospitals. Our previous peak in December 2020 was 818, and during the first week of July 2021, we had 52 COVID patients in West Virginia’s hospitals.”

That blog was published a week ago. As of Thursday, there were 1,005 people in the hospital with COVID-19.

In two months, we went from almost having this pandemic under control to forcing doctors to decide which patients qualify for the scant resources left. Some media sources refer to these teams of medical professionals as “death panels,” because in the face of no room, no resources and hundreds of ill patients, doctors have to decide who gets medical attention to help them live and who is  made comfortable before they die.

Mind you — it’s not just COVID patients in need of those resources. There are still heart attacks, strokes, brain aneurisms, catastrophic falls, severe burns and dozens of other maladies that plague us in normal life.

 Then Gov. Justice dropped this bomb: Due to CDC miscounts, West Virginia’s vaccination rate (ages 12-and-up with at least one dose) wasn’t 74% — it was only 63.7%. Vaccination is the best defense against COVID-19 (preferably paired with mask wearing and social distancing). The proof is in our hospitals: 90% of COVID patients in the ICU are unvaccinated.

If you’re someone who has resisted getting vaccinated, please consider this: Now, more than ever, there is no guarantee hospitals will be able to save your life — or even try  — if you become seriously ill with COVID. And if you are lucky enough to get a hospital bed while sick with COVID — your preventable illness may cost someone else their life.