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Montana Releases Crisis Care Guidance For Ethical Decisions Amid Supply Scarcity

A stock image shows empty hospital beds in a row.

Montana’s health department Tuesday endorsed guidance for medical providers potentially facing a scarcity of medical supplies, space and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Crisis Care Guidance is meant to help medical providers make ethical decisions for treating patients when medical supplies, rooms or staff are scarce.

The guidance comes more than a month after several hospitals in Montana reported they were approaching or surpassing capacity due to a surge in COVID-19 patients.

Billings Clinic Medical Director for Healthcare Ethics, Nathan Allen, sat on a working group of medical ethicists and providers, disability representatives, emergency preparedness planners and hospital administrators that’s been meeting since spring to develop the guidance.

He says it’s meant to help doctors, nurses and administrators avoid having to ration resources like ventilators, but also navigate situations where multiple patients need finite supplies.

"And so in doing that a triage team applies an algorithm, a consistent way of making that decision, that tries to avoid biases and be consistent and use evidence when possible," Allen says.

A spokesperson for the state health department says the plan is a living document and the working group will continue to meet and update it.