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Coronavirus Questions: Who Gets Treatment If Maryland Runs Short On Medical Supplies?

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- It's something none of us want to think about, but healthcare and legal professionals say it's crucial to have a plan in place if and when there is a shortage of medical supplies.

These are terribly difficult questions, and experts in this field have created a set of guidelines in the event that hospitals get overwhelmed and have to ration their supplies.

At least 522 Marylanders have been hospitalized at some point with COVID-19, but Governor Larry Hogan says he's most concerned about a surge of people needing hospital attention all at once.

"If we don't flatten this curve, and two many people get sick at the same time and we don't have enough ventilators, we don't have enough personnel in our hospitals, we don't have enough ICU beds and emergency rooms to handle that," Hogan said in an interview on C-SPAN on Tuesday.

This is exactly the dilemma that members of the University of Maryland Ethics Committee Network are grappling with.

This is a group that provides training and resources to hospitals and nursing facilities.

The group is also responsible for the decision making in the event that hospitals run out of staff or supplies.

"Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Nobody wants to make those decisions. It's agonizing for people whose code of ethics is to help people to have to make a choice like that who gets a limited resource," Anita Tarzian, of the University of Maryland, Maryland Healthcare Ethics Committee Network, said.

In 2017 a report was created following the H1N1 flu pandemic to spell out how supplies would be rationed in the event that there just isn't enough to go around.

"When we have these kinds of catastrophic health emergencies, then the standard of care is altered so that physicians can treat those who are most likely to survive and will benefit from the ventilator," Dr. Diane Hoffman, a Professor of Law at the University of Maryland School of Law, said.


At the direction of the governor, a triage system would be implemented across all Maryland hospitals.

The triage team would score patients, first looking at their organ functions and chances for short term survival.

Next, they would look at whether the patient can survive longer than 12 months. Someone with a terminal illness or preexisting condition may not fall into this category.

If there was ever a tie, then age would be the next factor, with anyone 49 and younger given priority.

"In reality, when we look at what's happening in New York and other states, I think we need to be prepared for that," Tarzian said.

Tarzian says the triage system takes the burden off of doctors and nurses from making these very difficult decisions.


"We want to be able to have people feel, alright, I don't like this, but I've been as prepared as I can come and I don't feel alone," Tarzian said.

One thing experts say is really important right now -- especially for people in longterm care facilities -- is that you tell your loved ones and your doctor what you want to happen if you become sick with the virus.

For example, if you want to be placed on a ventilator, or want other kinds of interventions done.

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department's website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ's coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

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