Life support

Tom McLaughlin: Health Care for Life Support | Columns

How long before you call 911 and hear the elevator music interspersed with a robot voice saying, “Your call is very important to us, please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly” ?

This is what we come to. Some places are already there. The next time you have a medical emergency, you may not get the treatment you need. After waiting for your 911 call to be answered, you could wait a long time for an ambulance. A medical professional who has worked in hospitals across the country for the past few years tells me that our emergency rooms are so crowded that the patients they could save are dying.

There are not enough nurses. There are not enough doctors There are not enough assistants. There are not enough paramedics.

It was a critical situation almost everywhere before COVID started. Writing three weeks ago in US News & World Report, ER doctor Sharon Anoush Chekijian said, “Even before the pandemic, I felt like the emergency department was taking on the lion’s share of primary care: we provide treatment for hypertension, fill prescriptions when doctor’s office calls go unanswered, and manage chronically high blood sugar. Behavioral health patients with nowhere to go were arriving in ambulances one after another. Now, COVID-19 has laid bare medicine’s house of cards. “

Our emergencies are on the brink. Maine Governor Janet Mills’ recent vaccination mandate sparked a wave of staff resignations, as have similar mandates across the country. According to the Lewiston Sun-Journal of October 1: “This has a huge impact on the existing labor shortage,” said Dr John Alexander. Central Maine Healthcare is the parent organization of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital and Rumford. The hospital, as well as Maine’s emergency care and primary care network. “Plus to be honest a lot of people, a lot of frontline caregivers who have worked during this pandemic are tired,” he said.

I asked the health care professional who first alerted me to the problem why hospitals don’t just hire more staff. She said they’re just not there and nursing schools aren’t getting them fast enough either. There are also not enough qualified staff to teach nursing students. Salaries at all levels are far too low. Hospital administrators, however, are well paid. Ten years ago, the CEO of CMMC received more than $ 857,000 in fiscal 2011. What about today? I couldn’t find any data. I guess it would be over a million dollars a year.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Work Act passed in 1986 requires emergency rooms to treat everyone who presents. They must be screened, stabilized, and then transferred to an appropriate hospital or they remain in the emergency room.

Emergency room staff see patients suffering and dying on each shift for lack of care. They also see their loved ones in mourning. CEOs don’t see these things. They see profit and loss spreadsheets. Kate Wells of Michigan Radio writes: “Inside the emergency department at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan, staff members struggle to care for patients who present much sicker than they have ever seen. . Tiffani Dusang, the director of emergency nursing, practically vibrates with pent-up anxiety, watching the patients lying on a long line of stretchers pushed against the beige walls of the hospital hallways. “It’s hard to watch,” she said in a warm Texan tone.

But there is nothing she can do. The 72 emergency rooms are already full. “I always feel very, very bad when I walk down the hall and see that people are in pain, or need to sleep, or need calm. But they have to be in the hallway with, as you can see, 10 or 15 people passing by every minute, ”Dusang said. … “I can’t tell you how many (nurses) told me they came home crying” after their shift.

Dr Chekijian in US News said, “The bottom line is this: The house of medicine in the United States is a house of cards that has already started its descent into collapse.

I just turned 70 last spring, and it’s a baffling scenario for my population, the cohort most likely to need health care. Prone to chronic blood clots, I have spent many hours in emergency rooms over the past 30 years, the last few times on a stretcher in a hallway because the ER was overcrowded. I watched nurses rush around trying to take care of all of us and hated adding to their stress by asking for more.

The last time I did this was three years ago. How will it be next time?

Tom McLaughlin, former weekly Sun columnist, lives in Lovell, Maine.


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