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'Crisis standards of care': New Mexico Democratic gov authorizes health care rationing

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'... if and when the Department of Health deems it necessary, they can'

SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images

As coronavirus cases surge across the western United States, some state officials and health officials are exploring the possibility of rationing health care, providing adequate care only to those patients who are most likely to survive COVID-19.

What's going on?

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham admitted in an interview with the Washington Post that she will permit New Mexico hospitals to operate under "crisis standards of care," which means they will be allowed to ration health care.

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesperson for the governor, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that Lujan Grisham signed an executive order on Friday making it easier for hospitals to ration health care, but she has not given the green light for the "crisis standards" — yet.

"In the simplest possible terms, [the executive order] provides for the temporary facilitation of that assistance that may become necessary outside providers' regular scope of practice and support. So, if and when the Department of Health deems it necessary, they can," Stelnicki explained.

However, Lujan Grisham told the Post that she would most likely approve "crisis standards" by Monday.

The Democratic governor took action last month against the COVID-19 surge, enacting new restrictions that closed "in-person services for all non-essential activities" statewide. But cases continued to surge, and now, the University of New Mexico's six hospitals are nearing their ICU capacity.

Speaking with the Post, Lujan Grisham said her actions "dropped the positivity rate, we dropped our rate of infection, and we slowed hospitalizations per capita" — but said it was not enough.

"We have constituents here — and I would argue in every state — that still believe that this is not a deadly, contagious virus, and you don't have to practice any public health measures," she said. "That makes it really complicated."

New Mexico is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 impacts, the Post noted, because the state "has one of the lowest numbers of per capita hospital beds of any state in the nation," in addition to having "an unusually high percentage of elderly and low-income residents."

To date, New Mexico has seen more than 108,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 1,750 deaths from the virus. Those are big numbers for a state with a population of a little more than 2 million people.

Any other states?

Meanwhile, hospital leaders in Idaho also said the COVID situation in the Gem State could mean hospitals reach the "crisis standard of care" by New Year's — or even mid-December, according to the Idaho Statesman.

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