Sacramento cancer patient fears medical professionals prioritize 'healthier' people as COVID-19 cases surge

SACRAMENTO (KGO) -- Even without an order to shelter in place, Valerie Roberts of Sacramento wouldn't be allowing anyone but immediate family to get near her. "Nobody is allowed in my house."

She's a wife, mother and grandmother who's wonderful life changed three years ago after a cancer diagnosis and the novel coronavirus pandemic has made that life even more precarious.

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Last weekend, Valerie received a call from an oncology supervisor at Sutter General Hospital, who advised her to stay away from the emergency room during a COVID-19 surge. The supervisor said it was for her own safety and also because they would be prioritizing more healthy patients first.

"Basically, that is how I took it," Roberts said. "That someone healthier would get the ventilator. The conversation was if you get the virus and there are complications from it, we need to discuss comfort care for you."

"As in morphine?' we asked.

"Yes," she said and now has the prescription.

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These appear to be some of the difficult triage decisions that hospitals across the nation are anticipating or already dealing with.

If COVID-19 patients surge, medical professionals will have to pick and choose who to help, or not. It is a sad and frightening abstract, especially on the receiving end.

Valerie says Sutter told her that they would have to treat her for any cancer complications, or COVID-19, at home.

"I am not angry at the hospital I am angry at the situation. Angry that our country is not prepared," Roberts added.

ABC7 News reached out to Sutter Health for a statement, they replied:

"Providing safe patient care is our highest priority at Sutter Health and we are prepared to use the breadth of our integrated network to increase our critical care capacity by 2-3 times in a very short number of days, including increasing our staff and supplies to prepare for a surge in patients. Clinicians regularly communicate with medically-vulnerable patients to fulfill their current health care needs and to discuss advanced care planning. A natural part of this discussion right now includes educating patients about the vigilance of maintaining social distancing, discussing how patients can access care now and during a surge, and understanding a patient's wishes. It is our responsibility to have those discussions well before a hospital surge occurs and the goal is to assure them that we will do everything we can to fulfill those wishes both now and in the event of a hospital surge."

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Meantime, Valerie Roberts is one potential patient in a class of people with chronic problems, at higher risks, with reduced options. She is certainly among the first, if not the first, to talk.

"I am disappointed to think that I might be one of the people that at the end of the day, I might not be one of the people taken care of because I have advanced-stage cancer. The fact of the matter is I have a whole life to live, and I want to."

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