San Diego

Hospital Oxygen Supply Shortage Impacting San Diego Home HealthCare Business

doctor holding oxygen ambu bag over patient given oxygen to patient by intubation tube
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Health officials are dealing with a shortage of medical-grade oxygen at hospitals in Los Angeles County.

San Diego County health officials aren't reporting the problem at hospitals here, but a local medical supplier told NBC 7 they are feeling the effects of the shortage. NBC 7 also spoke to a nurse from San Bernardino County who said the shortage has jeopardized care at her hospital.

Michelle Baca is an ICU nurse doing her best to care for the influx of COVID-19 patients, at Kaiser Permanente in San Bernardino County. The shortage of oxygen supply is affecting her too.

“It just makes it hard to do your job and do the things that you want to do to help save these people when things like oxygen are scarce and you start running out of it,” Baca said.

She said it’s nowhere near what LA County is dealing with, but on certain floors the overflow of patients forces rooms to double up. Those rooms are then not equipped to provide the increased amount of oxygen therapies needed for each patient.

“In order to deliver that, we need those ports for one patient, so what we’ve done to overcome that is some of those patients we have on portable oxygen tanks. The trouble with that, is those tanks only last maybe 30 minutes each,” said Baca.

Overwhelmed nurses and staff can only keep up with replacing oxygen tanks as fast as possible. Once a patient drops too low, stronger treatment is needed, Baca said.

In San Diego County, Erica Sell, CEO of Harmony Home Medical Supply, said she has had to turn down about 20% of potential business.

The company distributes oxygen concentrators to at-home, hospital-cleared patients covered by insurance. The concentrators turn ambient air into medical-grade oxygen, eliminating the need to refill tanks.

“We had a lot more demand for oxygen and lot of people not knowing what the requirements are to get oxygen. Not knowing they need a doctor’s prescription,” said Sell.

Sell's machines also help clear space in hospitals, but without oxygen concentrators to send home to patients, they sometimes have to stay at the hospital.

“They’re trying to discharge patients home but they don’t have the proper documentation in place and/or there are not enough supplies. Not enough readily available oxygen concentrators to get people home, because the manufacturers are backordered,” said Sell.

Sell said while hospitals don’t seem to be experiencing a shortage here in San Diego, it’s something she’s dealing with right now.

The County of San Diego said they are coordinating with all local hospitals and have a plan if needed, but as of now it is not an issue.

UCSD Health and Sharp Healthcare spokespersons told NBC 7 they are not currently experiencing shortage issues.

Kaiser Permanente did say they are aware of the demand for oxygen at hospitals, and so far has been successful in working with vendors to mitigate the problem.

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