Soaring COVID-19 cases might force some West Texas hospitals to ration healthcare

Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 8:40 PM CST
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - As Americans, we often take our health care for granted. If we go to the emergency room, we expect a certain quality and quantity of medical treatment. But what would happen if that treatment isn’t available? Residents of Andrews County are getting close to that answer.

“If we continue this upward trend, we will run out,” said Dr. Alyssa Tochterman, Chief of Staff at Permian Regional Medical Center.

Tochterman says her hospital is on the verge of running out of equipment to treat COVID-19. They’re holding patients longer than they’d like and are unable to transfer them to larger hospitals with specialized services because those hospitals are full.

“It has really come to a head within the last few days,” Tochterman said. “Now, we’re sitting on patients for more than six hours. And in one case, we have a patient we’ve held onto for more than 24 hours.”

And with resources dwindling, PRMC is rapidly approaching the unthinkable in the American health system: rationing.

“We are running out of beds, running out staff, running out of the machines we need,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to provide that care. We are going to have to make those tough decisions, and, unfortunately, some people are going to die because of that.”

But how does rationing work? What does it look like?

“We talk with other doctors and talk with the family and ultimately decide ‘This patient is probably not going to get better.’ It is really our judgment to say we recommend withdrawing support.”

The family can say, “No.” But in the end, it’s not their decision to make.

“We pull in an ethics team and another doctor team. If they all agree, it can be done anyway.”

It’s an undesirable position for everyone involved.

“It is not a decision I make lightly, and it is not one I want to make.”

So, Tochterman recommends what other health officials recommend: cancel Thanksgiving, stay home unless you have to, and wear a mask.

“I want our community to know we need their help so that we can help them. So that we’ve got the resources to help them. Without their help, we can’t do this.”

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