Utah GOP Lawmaker Says ICUs are Full Because of 'Chasing' Staff Away, Not COVID-19

A Utah Republican who sponsored a bill lifting most COVID-related restrictions falsely claimed that the state's shortage of ICU beds was not because of the pandemic, but because the staff were "chased" away.

Rep. Paul Ray, who represents the Clearfield area, made the comments during a hearing about President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates for businesses, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. The lawmaker began speaking about a person's choice to get vaccinated when he segued to hospital capacity in the state.

Ray claimed that the shortage of ICU beds was not caused by unvaccinated people in the hospital due to the spread of the Delta variant, but rather from business decisions.

"[Intermountain Healthcare] says they're out of space. They're not out of space. They're out of employees. They chased their doctors away. They chased their nurses away. They made it hell for their employees," Ray said. "They got caught in the middle of a pandemic trying to change their business model to increase their billion-dollar bottom line so they can make more money. They got caught with their pants down. Now all of a sudden it's our fault."

Intermountain Healthcare (IHC) President and CEO Dr. Marc Harrison previously said the surge in COVID cases pushed the ICU capacity at Intermountain, Utah's largest healthcare system, above 100 percent. As a result, they'd also start postponing some surgeries, according to The Tribune.

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Ambulances line up at the entrance of the emergency room to drop off patients at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, on November 11, 2020. In September 2021, Utah Republican Rep. Paul Ray claimed that the state's shortage of ICU beds was due to business decisions, not COVID-19. Stringer/Getty

Ray said it was disingenuous to solely blame the pandemic and the unvaccinated during his comments.

"Primary Children's they said was at 103% capacity in their pediatric ICU. They had two COVID patients, the rest were trauma and RSV. Let's get some honesty here. Let's stop fear-mongering. Let's quit trying to push people and just let them make their own decisions for once and get government out of it," he said.

However, Jess Gomez, a spokesman for Intermountain Healthcare, disputes the lawmaker's claims.

"This characterization is not accurate. All health systems in Utah and nationally have been deeply impacted by the COVID pandemic and the ongoing surge of new cases and hospitalizations caused by community transmission of the Delta variant. Intermountain Healthcare also continues to experience very high patient volumes for COVID and non-COVID patient care. Our caregivers and leaders are working extremely hard to provide the best care possible during this extraordinary time," Gomez said in an email to The Tribune.

On Tuesday, Utah health officials said that around 1,900 Utahns tested positive for COVID-19 in a single day and that 11 more died from the virus.

The following day, Ray clarified his first comment about a lack of staff was in reference to fewer regular hospital beds, not just the ICU, in an interview with the newspaper.

"Let's be more upfront with people. They don't have the staffing to deal with patients in regular beds. I get the idea that the ICUs are full, but they can't just blame it on COVID," Ray said.

Intermountain threatened cutbacks at the start of the pandemic because of low revenue, postponements on elective procedures, and lower inpatient admission, according to The Tribune. After revenue fell nearly $435 million from March to May of 2020, IHC cut 401k match contributions for employees.

"I'll go on the record saying IHC is the best medical system I've seen in many places. But, some of their capacity problems are the result of administrative choices they've made," Ray said.