Thanks to Trump, ‘death panels’ arrive in the City of Angels
Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics move an injured person into an ambulance after a car crashed on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles on Dec. 26, 2020. With hospitals overflowing due to COVID-19, L.A. County health officials have now instructed ambulance crews to make a call on whether patients have a chance of survival before transporting them to hospital. | Damian Dovarganes / AP

LOS ANGELES—Whatever you do, don’t have a heart attack or stroke in L.A. And if you can possibly help it, don’t get infected by the coronavirus either!

Remember the Republicans’ scare-the-bejeezus-out-of-you predictions of government “death panels” and healthcare rationing if Obamacare ever passed—not to mention Medicare for All? Those wait times in Canada for a knee replacement!!!

Welcome to Los Angeles. Welcome to the healthcare catastrophe that is the United States of America, the very carnage stalking the nation that Donald J. Trump talked about in his 2017 Inauguration speech that “only he” could reverse.

Well, it’s four years later and the prediction has come true—under Donald J. Trump after a year of criminal dithering and denial over the deadliest pandemic to hit the planet since the 1918 influenza. (Though we can hardly forget the negligence over AIDS in the 1980s under another troglodyte right-wing Republican, Ronald Reagan.)

One out of nine Americans lives in California. That’s close to 40 million people. It figures there’d be a lot of COVID-19 cases in the state.

With some 10 million inhabitants of Los Angeles County—the largest population of any county in the United States—it has already seen more than 800,000 cases. Daily testing is now turning up one in five positive results.

That’s a whole lot of infectious people walking around, checking in to crowded workplaces, coming home to multigenerational families.

To date, there’ve been almost 11,000 deaths in L.A. County—more than twice the number of COVID-19 deaths reported in all of China! With the post-Thanksgiving, post-Christmas, and New Year surges, the county is now seeing approximately 100 deaths per day. That’s one every 15 minutes, according to Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer.

At this writing, some 7,600 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county. More than one in five of them are laid out on beds in intensive care units. There aren’t many ICUs left: As of Sunday, only 326 beds available. And they’re for any and all kinds of emergency treatment, not just COVID.

Don’t take them to the hospital

That’s why, on Monday, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department issued a directive to all ambulance services telling them that if the patient presents scant chance of survival at the scene, after a heart attack, stroke, or car accident, EMS can try resuscitating them for 20 minutes, but if there’s no breathing and no pulse, then don’t bring them to the hospital. They’d only have to circle around searching for a facility with an open ICU that would accept them, and take up space needed for more favorable cases.

Only if the patient has been stabilized would they be driven to a hospital. And even then, they’d likely be forced to wait for hours on a gurney in a corridor before being admitted to an emergency room.

Here are your “death panels” and your “rationed” healthcare. Triage, like on the battlefield. The “beautiful” health plan the president has been promising to take the place of Obamacare.

As of last weekend, according to state data, almost 8,000 patients with coronavirus were in the county’s hospital beds, over 1,600 of them in ICUs.

It won’t get better real soon either. The next four to six weeks will be a critical period when the coronavirus skyrockets to a new peak. It’s devastating everything and everyone—families, communities, schools, businesses, travel, human lives in shreds. Only the stock market seems to be healthy. Why is that?

“Hospitals are declaring internal disasters and having to open church gyms to serve as hospital units,” says County Supervisor Hilda Solis. “Our health care workers are physically and mentally exhausted and sick.”

In the last month alone, COVID cases in the county doubled, from 400,000 to 800,000 cases. “That is a human disaster and one that was avoidable,” Solis says, warning that it could still get worse “if the health restrictions in place are not fully obeyed.”

In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, ventilator tubes are attached to a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. Hospitals across California have all but run out of intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients, ambulances are backing up outside emergency rooms, and tents for treating the sick are going up as the nation’s most populous state emerges as the latest epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. | Jae C. Hong / AP

News media report every day on groups of outraged citizens in various locales around the state and country who openly defy the mandate to wear a mask in public and to restrict public gatherings. Even some of the courts are too timid to restrict church services attracting hundreds and even thousands of praying, singing worshipers standing side by side, on some outlandish interpretation of “freedom of religion.”

“We are pushing the limits of the hospital infrastructure,” says Solis. “Care now has to be rationed.”

In California, as elsewhere in the nation, the vaccine rollout has been hampered by poor planning and virtually no federal support system in place. As former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis used to say, quoting an old Greek proverb with reference to the Reagan-Papa Bush régime he was trying to unseat in 1988, “the fish rots from the head.”

Joe Biden staked his electoral win on getting rid of the rot and instituting a structure of “best practices” that follow the counsel of the scientific community. The era of rationality and competence, as well as widespread factual healthcare education, cannot come too soon.

And then, once a modicum of stability is achieved, it will behoove our whole society to look at what healthcare systems work the best for the most people. Many readers of this newspaper, as well as many specialists in healthcare policy, will certainly look at nationwide programs in other parts of the developed world—and even in poorer countries such as Cuba—and conclude that universal single-payer is ultimately the least expensive, the most egalitarian and the fairest system, with the most successful outcomes.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. His latest project is translating the nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, the first volumes available from International Publishers NY.