April 3, 2020 / Nina Shapiro, Contributor
As the COVID-19 pandemic expands worldwide, with the United States now having the highest number of cases and exponentially increasing numbers of cases and deaths daily, the shortage of supplies is becoming paramount. Healthcare workers are in need of personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes N95 masks, surgical masks, gowns, gloves, and eye protection. The rapidly growing shortage of ventilators is also becoming of dire concern. What is less widely discussed is the concerning shortage of professionals to manage ventilators, as increasing numbers of healthcare workers are becoming infected, hospitalized, and dying.
These machines are not only complicated to build and procure, they are also quite complicated to run and maintain. There is no “on-off” switch and you’re good to go. Ventilators, especially those used to manage and treat individuals with severe lung infections, require highly trained professionals, typically intensive care physicians, anesthesiologists, intensive care nurses, and respiratory therapists. As the individuals who are caring for the exponentially growing ill population become sick or worse, the level of care for critically ill patients will be compromised as exponentially as their numbers increase.
As most of you will not be called to manage a patient on a ventilator, it’s still worth getting a bit of primer on what these machines do and how they work, what the numbers mean, and what their limitations are. If nothing else, it will make it more clear why the people managing ventilators are more critical than the machines. Yes, we already know that people are more valuable (let’s just say they are priceless) than machines, but the emphasis needs to continually be focusing on preserving the human workforce behind ventilatory care.
Perhaps walking through how a patient progresses from a cough and a fever to a bit of trouble breathing to needing oxygen to needing a ventilator to (here’s hoping) coming off of the ventilator and recovering would go is in order: