Americans get sicker as omicron stalls everything from heart surgeries to cancer care

February 4, 2022

National Public Radio

After every shift in his Seattle emergency department, Dr. Matt Beecroft comes away with some new story of how the omicron surge is making his patients sicker.

And not just from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Instead, it's the delays and disruptions in medical care — a consequence of overcrowded and short-staffed hospitals — that are leading to, at times, life-threatening complications.

"It can be just heartbreaking," says Beecroft, who recalls one recent patient of his who had a heart attack. "She had been scheduled for a cardiac bypass," a procedure done to improve blood flow when there's an obstructed or partially blocked artery, "but that surgery had been canceled."

Beecroft, who's affiliated with the American College of Emergency Physicians, told two other doctors about the patient. That's when it became clear to him that this was far from an isolated event: "Between the three of us, we had seen four patients who had cardiac complications from not being able to get a cardiac surgery."

There's no way to quantify how many Americans are now suffering serious, if not irreversible, harm to their health because hospitals are buckling under the weight of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. But doctors say the consequences are far-reaching, given how many procedures have been postponed.

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