Italian Hospitals Rationing Healthcare for Older, Sicker Coronavirus Patients

A hospital worker is pictured at the emergencies department of the Cardarelli hospital in Naples on March 11, 2020, a day after Italy imposed unprecedented national restrictions on its 60 million people on March 10 to control the deadly coronavirus. - Its a race against time at the Cardarelli hospital …
CARLO HERMANN/AFP via Getty Images

Doctors working in Italy’s overwhelmed hospitals say they have been forced to ration services for older, sicker patients in order to prioritize younger patients who are more likely to be saved from the coronavirus.

At a hospital in Italy’s northern Lombardy region — the epicenter of not only Italy’s but Europe’s coronavirus crisis — patients with the best chances of survival have been moved to the front of the line, getting full attention from hospital staff, according to a report by the Times.

The report added that doctors are saying some patients suffering strokes or other traumas cannot be treated, and that patients dealing with other serious health problems — such as pneumonia, heart attacks, and strokes — might be unable to obtain a hospital bed.

As for non-urgent procedures, those have been reduced to almost zero, according to Italian doctors.

“If someone between 80 and 95 has serious breathing difficulties, you probably don’t proceed,” said Christian Salaroli, anesthetist at a hospital in Bergamo, according to the Times.

At San Giovanni Bosco Hospital in Turin, head anesthetist Marco Vergano said, “We can’t invent new intensive care unit beds.”

“It’s important to understand that patients who arrive with a grave interstitial pneumonia from Covid-19 will not be in intensive care for a few days but for weeks,” he added.

On Tuesday, the mayor of Bergamo — just northeast of Milan, in Italy’s worst-infected region of Lombardy — announced that “patients who cannot be treated are left to die.”

“This is what several doctors engaged in dealing with the emergency in our hospitals have told [us],” said Mayor Giorgio Gori.

Lombard Councilor for Welfare Giulio Gallera denies the mayor’s claims that Lombardy hospitals have begun prioritizing “who is to be saved and who is not,” but admits that these hospitals have indeed run out of space for patients.

According to the Times, Walter Ricciardi — a member of the World Health Organisation’s executive board who is advising the Italian government — said that patients with serious conditions unrelated to the coronavirus are being transferred to hospitals in other regions.

The report added that doctors who co-ordinate intensive care unit (ICU) services in Lombardy said they have expected a demand of between 2,700 and 3,200 ICU beds in the region by March 26 — and only 750 ICU beds are normally available.

“It’s clear that responding adequately to this demand will be impossible,” said the doctors. “Despite the enormous commitment of all the health personnel and the deployment of all available equipment, a correct management of the phenomenon is now impossible.”

As the number of coronavirus cases surge in Italy, the nation’s Civil Protection announced that hospitals in northern Italy are short on ventilators and that the department will need to purchase more.

“We are purchasing and distributing over 5,000 ventilators for intensive care,” said the head of Civil Protection Angelo Borrelli, according to TG Verona.

“They will be delivered according to the deadline between 8 and 7 days and 16 and 45 days,” he added. “The work to strengthen regional structures for the supply of goods necessary for the care of the population continues.”

A shocking 196 people have died in Italy due to the Chinese virus in just the last 24 hours, which makes for the highest daily rise since the coronavirus epidemic began and brings Italy’s death toll from 631 on Tuesday to 827 on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, a total of 12,462 people have been confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus in Italy.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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