Variation in COVID-19 Resource Allocation Protocols and Potential Implementation in the Chicago Metropolitan Area

Rupali Gandhi*, Gina M. Piscitello, William F. Parker, Kelly Michelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Scarce resource allocation policies vary across the United States. Little is known about regional variation in resource allocation protocols and variation in their application. We sought to evaluate how Covid-19 scarce resource allocation policies vary throughout the Chicago metropolitan area and whether there are differences in policy application within hospitals when prioritizing hypothetical patients who need critical care resources. Methods: Two cross-sectional surveys were distributed to Chicago metropolitan area hospital representatives and triage officers. Survey responses and categorical variables are described by frequency of occurrence. Intra- and interhospital variation in ranking of hypothetical patients was assessed using Fleiss’s Kappa coefficients. Results: Eight Chicago-area hospitals responded to the survey assessing scarce resource allocation protocols (N = 8/18, response rate 44%). For hospitals willing to describe their ventilator allocation protocol (N = 7), most used the sequential organ failure assessment (SOFA) score (N = 6/7, 86%) and medical comorbidities (N = 4/7, 57%) for initial scoring of patients. A majority gave priority in initial scoring to pre-defined groups (N = 5/7, 71%), all discussed withdrawal of mechanical ventilation for adult patients (N = 7/7, 100%), and a minority had exclusion criteria (N = 3/7, 43%). Forty-nine triage officers from nine hospitals responded to the second survey (N = 9/10 hospitals, response rate 90%). Their rankings of hypothetical patients showed only slight agreement amongst all hospitals (Kappa 0.158) and fair agreement within two hospitals with the most respondents (Kappa 0.21 and 0.25). Almost half used tiebreakers to rank patients (N = 23/49, 47%). Conclusions: Although most respondents from Chicago-area hospitals described policies for resource allocation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the substance and application of these protocols varied. There was little agreement when prioritizing hypothetical patients to receive scarce resources, even among people from the same hospital. Variations in resource allocation protocols and their application could lead to inequitable distribution of resources, further exacerbating community distrust and disparities in health. Supplemental data for this article is available online at

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-275
Number of pages10
JournalAJOB Empirical Bioethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021


  • Bioethics
  • Covid-19
  • empirical research
  • health policy
  • public health
  • survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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