April 10, 2020 Reading Time: 5 minutes

If you watch the national news, you hear nonstop and correct reports of crowded hospitals and morgues, exhausted overworked doctors and nurses, and healthcare systems stretched beyond belief.

Let’s just say that the last thing you would expect to hear about is furloughed nurses. So, here we go:

Abilene (Texas) Regional Medical Center has confirmed they will be placing a select number of medical staff on furlough. Hospital staff across the state are dealing with these changes after Governor Abbott signed an order postponing elective surgeries to make room for patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to KTXS, last Tuesday the station received information from an ER nurse at the hospital claiming she had been taken off the schedule from Abilene Regional ER.

After reaching out to Abilene Regional, the hospital confirmed via email they would be reducing the amount of staff that is currently working.

“A very small number of individuals in areas where services have been curtailed or suspended were placed on furlough,” stated Director of Marketing Delores Cox.

The exact number of furloughed staff was not disclosed, and sources confirmed the hospital has reassigned staff. Some are being encouraged to take a vacation.

Hendrick Medical Center confirmed they wouldn’t lay off employees but stated changes are being implemented.

“We have not furloughed any employees. Hours have been reduced in some areas due to decreased volumes,” said Director of Communications Lynn Bruton. “We are actively cross-training these staff members to prepare for the surge and providing alternative work arrangements for them.”

In a press conference, Hendrick Medical Center CEO Brad Holland addressed the issue of staff cutbacks.

“This has taken an economic toll on Hendrick as well with 50-percent of the volume decreasing,” said Hendrick CEO Brad Holland. “That’s a financial hit and healthcare is not immune.”

Medical staff across the country are facing similar changes during the pandemic.

Now read this sentence again: “Governor Abbott signed an order postponing elective surgeries to make room for patients diagnosed with COVID-19.”

The problem: there are only 9 hospitalized cases of COVID-positive patients in this town. There are a total of 38 positive cases. Most of the sick people are “self-isolating,” or what we used to call staying home in bed. There has been one death that tested COVID-positive. Meanwhile, most everything else in the hospital that could be called elective surgery has been stopped. That sounds like maybe a nose job or a mole removal. 

Johns Hopkins corrects this misunderstanding. 

An elective surgery does not always mean it is optional. It simply means that the surgery can be scheduled in advance. It may be a surgery you choose to have for a better quality of life, but not for a life-threatening condition. But in some cases it may be for a serious condition such as cancer. Examples of elective surgery include removing a mole or wart, and having kidney stones removed. It may also be done if other forms of treatment are not working.

The hospital has been forced to comply. The order came down from above from the governor of the state who knows nothing of the particulars of this hospital, its administrators, its staff, its routines, and cares nothing for its capacity. This order was all about being in charge, and being seen as “doing something” about COVID-19, same as every other dictate that has been issued in the last month in the U.S. It’s preening for cameras, seeking to avoid blame for anything going wrong, hedging against danger in the next election, and currying favor with the press.

Just as the political class decided what is an essential vs nonessential business, so too have it decided what are essential and nonessential medical treatments. As a result, people who could be undergoing needed treatment are sitting at home under house arrest, while nurses who normally have busy jobs are also at home. 

I  mentioned this story to a friend and he said the same is happening in Rhode Island. It’s going on all over the country.

Eighty hospitals have furloughed workers in this crises.

Every month, 150,000 people in this country are diagnosed with cancer. Right now, they have to wait, and that includes surgeries for breast cancer and organ replacements, meaning that the delay is a potential death sentence. 

Joanne Lipman writes:

When the freeze thaws, a backlog of these critical surgeries is almost inevitable. In any given month, more than 1 million people typically have some kind of surgery, meaning potentially millions of procedures are being kicked down the road. Expect an onslaught of additional cases as well. After all, preventive measures like mammograms, prostate cancer screenings, stress tests, cardiac checkups and more are also being delayed, perhaps at the cost of lives.

Now, to be sure, that “surge” of coronavirus cases may come or it may not. No one knows for sure. Certainly politicians do not know. Everyone is making decisions in part on speculative statistical models whose worst predictions have so far not come to pass, but these models fed and fueled what amounts to panic and dictatorship. 

This is just one small anecdote of the problem of the existing central plan but it serves as a nice stand-in for many thousands or millions of similar problems going on all over the country. There are shutdowns that make no sense at all, even with the existing idea that being close to people spreads the disease, such as the closures of golfing ranges and marinas. And it’s just the beginning of the utter irrationality that has unfolded over the last weeks and will continue and grow so long as the shutdown goes on. 

You have politicians on the loose deciding that they know better than anyone else and that people have no clue how to act in their own interest to stay safe. Police are there to enforce the edicts such as no driving unless it is for essentials, as if driving spreads disease. A general political panic is the reigning political protocol of the day, and it’s spreading far and wide to the general population that is willing to believe just about anything, such as that you can get the disease from looking at people at the store while you shop.

What’s defined the response of the U.S. in this panic has nothing to do with our historic values, laws, and patriotic themes about freedom and bravery. We threw it all away when faced with uncertainties over a viral infection. And even though we are gaining more information by the day that one might suppose leads to a calm, we still await a return to letting medical professionals instead of politicians deal with the problem, and a retrospective embarrassment about everything that has unfolded over the last month. 

If nothing else, we are living through an astonishing example of the kind of madness of crowds that few believed could ever happen in modern times, along with its millions of unintended and unexpected outcomes. At least we now know better and have gained perhaps a greater appreciation for how and why liberty and the rule of law are such a rare and often temporary occurrence in the history of humankind. 

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research from 2017 to 2021.

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