Too Many Patients…A Framework to Guide Statewide Allocation of Scarce Mechanical Ventilation During Disasters
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The threat of a catastrophic public health emergency causing life-threatening illness or injury on a massive scale has prompted extensive federal, state, and local preparedness efforts. Modeling studies suggest that an influenza pandemic similar to that of 1918 would require ICU and mechanical ventilation capacity that is significantly greater than what is available. Several groups have published recommendations for allocating life-support measures during a public health emergency. Because there are multiple ethically permissible approaches to allocating scarce life-sustaining resources and because the public will bear the consequences of these decisions, knowledge of public perspectives and moral points of reference on these issues is critical. Here we describe a critical care disaster resource allocation framework developed following a statewide community engagement process in Maryland. It is intended to assist hospitals and public health agencies in their independent and coordinated response to an officially declared catastrophic health emergency in which demand for mechanical ventilators exceeds the capabilities of all surge response efforts and in which there has been an executive order to implement scarce resource allocation procedures. The framework, built on a basic scoring system with modifications for specific considerations, also creates an opportunity for the legal community to review existing laws and liability protections in light of a specific disaster response process.