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We didn’t have to have ventilator shortage — leaders chose not to prep for pandemic

By Betsy McCaughey
March 19, 2020 |New York Post

The novel coronavirus is causing working-age people to worry about missing paychecks, caring for kids home from school, stockpiling groceries and canceling plans. But people in their 50s, 60s or older have bigger worries. Many are lying awake wondering if this is how they are going to die.

At its most severe, the coronavirus attacks the lungs, making it impossible to breathe without a ventilator. Landing in the hospital on a ventilator is bad. But worse is being told you can’t have one.

Hospitals in New York are running short. To his credit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is doing his best, but he admits “you can’t find available ventilators no matter how much you’re willing to pay right now, because there is literally a global run on ventilators.”

It’s a little late. Several years ago, after learning that the Empire State’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than the 18,000 New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, state public-health leaders came to a fork in the road.

They could have chosen to buy more ventilators to back up the supplies hospitals maintain. Instead, the health commissioner, Howard Zucker, assembled a task force for rationing the ventilators they already had.

In 2015, that task force came up with rules that will be imposed when ventilators run short. Patients assigned a red code will have highest access, and other patients will be assigned green, yellow or blue (the worst), depending on a “triage officer’s” decision.

In truth, a death officer. Let’s not sugar-coat it. It won’t be up to your own doctor.

In 2015, the state could have purchased the additional 16,000 needed ventilators for $36,000 apiece, or a total of $576 million. It’s a lot of money, but in hindsight, spending half a percent of the budget to prepare for pandemic was the right thing to do.

To be fair, governments everywhere stockpiled too little. Washington didn’t do much better: The federal Strategic National Stockpile is undersupplied to meet the coronavirus emergency.

Now the pandemic is actually here. New York’s grim-reaper rules will be applied. New York City’s deputy commissioner for disease control, Demetre Daskalakis, is anticipating “some very serious, difficult decisions.” So far, in Gotham, one of every four people with a confirmed case has been hospitalized, and 44 percent of them have needed a ventilator.

In Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the pandemic, doctors recently faced the grim arithmetic of 1,000 patients needing ventilators and only 600 available. Italy is rationing ventilators, too, leaving many to die without them.

But in New York, rationing ventilators should be unnecessary. The state knew of the shortage, had the money and should have bought the lifesaving equipment, instead of making a plan for who should live or die. A lesson for the future.

For next time. Global viral-disease crises are occurring with increasing frequency.

In Italy, the death rate from coronavirus is a staggering 8 percent, more than double what’s occurring in many other countries. That’s partly because almost a quarter of Italy’s population is over 65 and thus especially vulnerable.

The other reason is that Italy’s universal national health system promises free care but delivers stingy care. Italy has only around one-third as many intensive-care beds per capita as the United States does. Coronavirus patients are being turned away.

Expect the same dire results in the United Kingdom. The British National Health Service allocates about one-fifth as many intensive care beds per capita as American hospitals do. Bernie Sanders, are you watching? What’s happening in Italy and Britain is proof single-payer heath care is emphatically not the way to go.

Hospitals here in the United States will face severe challenges in the coming weeks, including shortages of space, equipment and personnel. But nothing compared to the extreme scarcity in Europe’s national health systems.

Americans don’t want government holding back the very things we need to survive. New York should never again decide to ration lifesaving equipment when it can be bought affordably. Now is not the time for political criticism. It is the time to get our sanitized hands on ventilators — no matter what.

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