A doctor and nurse chat in an Intensive Care Unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital in New York (AP)

The intense efforts and sacrifices that are made to curb the spread of coronavirus have the objective of prevent hospitals from collapsing, a situation that unfailingly increases the lethality of the disease. However, the experience in New York, where more than 17 thousand victims of Covid-19 have died, shows that infected people not only die due to the lack of beds: many other patients lost their lives in unusual circumstances as a consequence of sanitary saturation.

The recommended care protocol indicates that a maximum of four patients for each nurse in the emergency rooms. But according to a survey of the New York Times, at the peak of the pandemic in the city there was up to 23 patients for each worker at the Queens Hospital Center, 20 at Kingsbrook Jewish in Brooklyn and 15 at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Figures that would have doubled if the nurses were working the normal number of hours, but most were working double shifts to increase care.

The situation was just as complex in the intensive care units, where the suggested proportions (two patients per nurse) were also multiplied by four, according to the testimonies of professionals cited by the Times.

Staff meeting at an intensive care station supported by army personnel in New York (Reuters)
Staff meeting at an intensive care station supported by army personnel in New York (Reuters)

The condition was aggravated by a lack of sedatives, a combination that caused several preventable deaths in normal situations. Many patients who were under an induced coma woke up in the middle of the night and, as a reflex, removed the respiratory and intravenous tubes necessary for their treatment. Staff were alerted, but was too late to try to save their lives.

For her part, Dawn Maldonado, a resident doctor at Elmhurst Hospital, described an unfortunate pattern of deaths in the floors with insufficient staff: these are patients who removed their oxygen masks to go to the bathroom, unaware that they could not breathe without them. . The employees gave the name “bathroom code” to these cases, since the bodies of the patients, already lifeless, were often found in the toilet facilities or near the door..

The deaths of patients who are disconnected from the systems and are not attended on time were repeated in the hospitals of Kingsbrook, Queens and Allen, among others, reported the Times.

During the pandemic, in addition, Governor Andrew Cuomo assured that the pandemic was faced with a single health system that combines all efforts. But the results show that the crisis reflected immense socioeconomic inequalities.

More than half of hospital beds in New York City belong to hospitals in five private networks. Its distribution is not proportional to the population: in Manhattan, there are 5 places for every 1,000 inhabitants; in Queens, just 1.8 per 1,000; in Brooklyn, 2.2; and in the Bronx, 2.4.

Bronx Nurses Protest Claiming Protective Medical Supplies (Reuters)
Bronx Nurses Protest Claiming Protective Medical Supplies (Reuters)

If we had the right staff and equipment, we could have saved many more livesSaid Alexander Andreev, medical resident and union representative at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center. As indicated to Times, “out of 10 deaths I think at least two or three could have been saved”.

Statistics prove him right. Even within Manhattan, the differences between the public and private systems is remarkable. At NYU Langone, one of the most recognized hospitals, the death rate for coronavirus patients has been 11%, but at the Bellevue Hospital Center, the city’s most renowned public hospital, the rate has reached 22%. The overall average for the Big Apple is one death for every five coronavirus patients, but in some community hospitals outside of Manhattan the rate was one death for every three patients.

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