As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, so does uncertainty about whether we will be able to return to “normal life” in the near future. A vaccine…
Even if New York gets all the ventilators it needs to handle the growing coronavirus crisis, there’s still one major question — who will operate them, medical experts say.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the state needs 30,000 ventilators if hospitals gets swamped with critically ill COVID-19 patients under the worst-case scenario.
Yet there are only a total of 7,713 respiratory specialists licensed to operate the breathing machines in New York, plus an unknown number of highly skilled nurses and doctors trained to use them.
“I read that Gov. Cuomo said that ventilators are to coronavirus what missiles were to WWII. While I am sure this is true, you would not have grabbed a front-line soldier off the battlefield, put him in the fighter cockpit and expect him to fly the plane, launch the missiles and defeat the enemy,’’ said Anthony Everidge, a 30-year veteran respiratory specialist who now works in Nevada but is still licensed to operate in New York.
“The outcome would be disastrous and would only compound the problem. The analogy applies to ventilators and the successful operation and management of the mechanical ventilator,” he said.
Everidge, a member of the American Association of Respiratory Care, said he worries there will “not be enough” skilled respiratory therapists, doctors and nurses with knowledge to operate the ventilators based on the current number of licensed operators.
Ventilators help gravely ill patients breathe by pumping air and oxygen into the lungs through a tube put in the nose or mouth to reach the windpipe. The machine delivers more oxygen into the patient than any other method and also supplies pressure to keep the lungs open.
Cuomo has discussed the need to stockpile 30,000 ventilators if a crush of COVID-19 patients hits the hospitals system in the next 14 to 21 days. But he has spoken less about staffing the ventilators.
The governor, during a press briefing Sunday, reported that 76,019 health care workers, including retirees, have agreed to volunteer to help New York’s strained medical facilities.
Of that total, he said 669 were respiratory therapists.
The state Health Department did not dispute that staffing issues for ventilators is a challenge.
A Health Department spokesman referred The Post to prior statements the governor has made about staffing issues.
“You can create beds, you find the equipment, you have to have the staff,” Cuomo said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio also said Sunday that he spoke to President Trump about the need for ventilators and “medical personnel.” He said city hospitals need at least 15,000 ventilators.
The respiratory specialists are like nurses for respiratory care. They monitor patients’ lung functions during their shifts by checking the data from the ventilator and adjusting the machine accordingly, Everidge said.
Compounding the problem is that COVID-19 patients who are admitted to intensive-care units are sicker than the typical patient who is intubated.
The typical patient is on a ventilator for three days. But COVID-19 patients are hooked on a ventilator for anywhere from 10 days to 21 days – with a high death rate, Cuomo said.
In a sign of the dire times, the state last week approved the controversial practice of having two patients share a single ventilator.
“It’s not ideal,” Cuomo said, “but we believe it’s workable.”
The Northwell Health system employs 400 respiratory therapists at its 23 regional hospitals — including Lenox Hill, Long Island Jewish and Staten Island University hospitals.
A spokesman said there is no shortage of ventilator operators– at least for now.
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