Beware: The Threat Of Rationing Care For Your Aging Parents

Amid this surging pandemic, millions of people justify travel, visiting aging loved ones, and ignoring CDC warnings about spreading the disease. Thanksgiving was followed by a surge in cases, a percentage of which result in hospitalizations. The predictable effect is that hospitals are overwhelmed, there are not enough nurses and doctors to staff the overflowing ICUs and extreme decisions will be made about care.

Not everyone who goes into an intensive care unit is a Covid-19 patient. Some people are there with heart attacks, strokes, injuries and other diseases. Many beds are filled with Covid patients as well. When the resources are not available to provide care for everyone as a hospital would without the new and crushing load, they are forced to do the unthinkable: select whom they try to save and let the rest go.

When doctors cannot treat everyone who comes to the hospital, they will be backed into the position of making these extreme decisions. It is proposed that instead of trying to save every life, they shift to trying to save as many people as possible. That means that those less likely to survive would not get the same kind of care as those deemed more likely to survive. When you hear the term “rationing care” that’s what it means.

The one who is determined to be “less likely to survive” could be your own aging parent. What if your family member is elderly, frail and has numerous health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney problems? Imagine she goes to the emergency department with trouble breathing, related to her heart problem. Compared with a 50 year old who contracted the coronavirus and is now struggling to breathe, which one will be put on the only remaining ventilator and get the full attention of the staff? There is no doubt that the frail elder will be discriminated against because of age.

If there ever were a reason to stay home and for your elder to avoid visitors from outside the home or the “bubble” of social connections nearby, this is it. It is true that an older person with multiple medical problems, which so many elders do have, is less likely to survive an emergency episode than a younger person without those conditions. Is it fair that the younger person would get needed care and the older one would not? No it is not fair. But it appears that in places where the pandemic is raging out of control and hospitals have no more beds, staff, equipment and other resources to give care to all, this is going to happen.

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Families need to be aware of what might happen with their loved ones who face emergency hospitalizations. It is no longer safe to assume that if one goes to a hospital at this unprecedented time that they will get the treatment they deserve. You could advocate for your aging parent in normal times but these times are not normal. They won’t let you accompany your elder to the hospital room, nor to visit them in ICU. You will be cut off from this opportunity due to Covid.

I advocate for families with their aging loved ones at AgingParents.com. I can no longer tell anyone how to be an advocate when they aren’t allowed in. I raise this sober warning to all who are traveling to visit aging parents during these holidays. If someone who is elderly gets sick, you cannot count on getting good care for them at any hospital where cases are exploding. That’s most hospitals right now. Beware, be safe. My heartfelt wish for you and your loved ones is that you stay home, abide by the warnings of the CDC and avoid the healthcare system right now.

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