Differences in US Regional Healthcare Allocation Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Donald R. Sullivan, Nandini Sarma, Catherine L. Hough, Richard A. Mularski, Molly L. Osborne, Kevin M. Dirksen, Robert C. Macauley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Hospitals faced unprecedented scarcity of resources without parallel in modern times during the COVID-19 pandemic. This scarcity led healthcare systems and states to develop or modify scarce resource allocation guidelines that could be implemented during “crisis standards of care” (CSC). CSC describes a significant change in healthcare operations and the level of care provided during a public health emergency. Objective: Our study provides a comprehensive examination of the latest CSC guidelines in the western region of the USA, where Alaska and Idaho declared CSC, focusing on ethical issues and health disparities. Design: Mixed-methods survey study of physicians and/or ethicists and review of healthcare system and state allocation guidelines. Participants: Ten physicians and/or ethicists who participated in scarce resource allocation guideline development from seven healthcare systems or three state-appointed committees from the western region of the USA including Alaska, California, Idaho, Oregon, and California. Results: All sites surveyed developed allocation guidelines, but only four (40%) were operationalized either statewide or for specific scarce resources. Most guidelines included comorbidities (70%), and half included adjustments for socioeconomic disadvantage (50%), while only one included specific priority groups (10%). Allocation tiebreakers included the life cycle principle and random number generators. Six guidelines evolved over time, removing restrictions such as age, severity of illness, and comorbidities. Additional palliative care (20%) and ethics (50%) resources were planned by some guidelines. Conclusions: Allocation guidelines are essential to support clinicians during public health emergencies; however, significant deficits and differences in guidelines were identified that may perpetuate structural inequities and racism. While a universal triage protocol that is equally accepted by all communities is unlikely, the lack of regional agreement on standards with justification and transparency has the potential to erode public trust and perpetuate inequity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-272
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • crisis guidelines
  • discrimination
  • equity
  • ethics
  • health disparities
  • racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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