Do Hospitals in San Diego County Have Enough Ventilators to Address the Surge in Coronavirus Cases?

NBC 7 Investigates asked the region’s largest hospital chains and the county

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Whether they are projections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or case reports from the World Health Organization, all information points to a simple fact; thousands of San Diego County residents will be infected with coronavirus in the coming months. 

Among the most pertinent questions: How will local hospitals cope with the rush of new patients and do those hospitals and the county have the equipment necessary if and when that influx of new patients arrives?

One vital piece of equipment to fight the respiratory complications which accompany the disease, including pneumonia, are mechanical ventilators. In Italy doctors have struggled with having to make the choice between which patients should get a ventilator and which ones don’t.

The CDC projected that worse case scenario, more than 160 million Americans could contract the virus and as many a 22 million people might require hospitalization, many of which would be in need of mechanical ventilators.

Even a small portion of those numbers will place major strains on hospitals throughout the country and the region.

According to a February 2020 report by the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, a pandemic such as coronavirus “could quickly overwhelm day-to-day operational capabilities,” at local hospitals. 

Mick Farrell is the CEO of ResMed, a ventilator manufacturer in San Diego. Farrell said the U.S. Federal Reserve has just 12,700 ventilators stockpiled in case of an emergency, prompting manufacturers such as ResMed to begin ramping up production.

“The United States Federal Reserve has 12,700 ventilators in the federal reserve,” Farrell told NBC 7. “That is not going to be enough, so we are working with them on what that is and we are working with state governments here in California also in Washington State which has been severely hit.”

NBC 7 Investigates asked some of the largest hospitals in the regions as well as the county for information about the number of ventilators and whether the county has ordered new ventilators to address the expected surge in hospitalizations.

Spokespersons at San Diego’s largest hospital chains declined to provide the number of respirators at their facilities. They did, however, say they have been in touch with county health officials in case more are needed.

“We have an appropriate number of ventilators for the patients we have in the medical center as well as a plan and resources for addressing a potential surge in additional respiratory patients,” said Aaron J. Byzak, spokesperson for Tri-City Medical Center. “We continue to report our capacity and capabilities to the County Public Health Department.”

A spokesperson at Scripps Health, which has a total of 1,225 trauma beds, said hospital administrators have “been very proactive” in ensuring enough ventilators are in place.

“We have an adequate supply of ventilators, and we can rent more if needed. If it gets to the point where we need more, we would go through the county to access government supplies,” the spokesperson said.

At Sharp Health, where approximately 1,023 beds are available for trauma and acute care, a spokesperson told NBC 7 Investigates that the hospital has been providing the county with daily ventilator counts and as of now are “adequately stocked.”

The County of San Diego, however, has not provided the numbers of ventilators and has also declined to state whether health officials have requested additional ventilators in case the spike in illnesses continues.

Farrell from ResMed cautions consumers from trying to take matters in their own hands. 

“People should not be buying ventilators online. They should be focused on their hygiene. And companies, like our hospital systems, and governments are working to make sure if you are in severe need of hospital ventilation, the machines will be there for you," he said.

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