U.S. Doctors Prepare Wills, Recordings for their Children as Italy-like Scenarios Swirl
Some emergency room doctors in the U.S. have already tested positive for the virus, and other medical providers have personally prepared for the possibility of infection—creating wills, isolating off parts of their houses from the rest of their families, recording bedtime stories for their children on their phones. But what happens to an already-cascading national health crisis when, even if equipment shortages are resolved, medical personnel are falling out of rotation?
Without concerted action to protect healthcare workers, experts said, America could be facing a shortage when its citizens need them most.
Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and an expert on U.S. readiness for pandemics, said there were three main ways to staff hospitals if a large number of providers get sick.
The first scenario is already playing out in New York City, where retired health officials—doctors, nurses, administrators, dietitians, and more—were recently asked to join the Big Apple’s medical reserves. More than 1,000 retired healthcare professionals and private practice physicians answered the call in just one day last week.
“Many of us in the business are worried about this, about the back-up plan for if they’re ill or have to stay home or—God forbid—don’t survive,” said Redlener. “The only problem with bringing in retired people is that they’re older, and many will have preexisting conditions.”
Then there’s the federal National Disaster Medical System, which exists to supplement health and medical systems during times of crisis. The system has sent reserve doctors from all over the country to respond to emergencies, including the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. The pool of doctors and nurses from the system can be requested by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial authorities.
But those resources are finite, and travel is no simple matter in the face of a creeping trend toward nationwide lockdown.
“If we’re dealing with a single major disaster someplace, then we have enough for that, but if we have clusters all over the country pop up, it becomes a problem because there’s so much demand across the board,” Redlener said.