Zurik: Ventilator supply in New Orleans could run out next week, health leaders compete against other states to get more in stock

State health official said as of March 25, ventilator supply could be fully used by April 1
Updated: Mar. 25, 2020 at 9:02 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - State and local leaders are very concerned that the ventilator supply for the New Orleans area may run out as soon as next week, as the state continues to respond to the Coronavirus outbreak which has sickened more than a thousand Louisianians.

As of March 25, approximately 28 percent of the state’s active cases include patients that are currently receiving treatment in a hospital. A third of those hospitalized are requiring the use of a ventilator. In one day the state saw 69 new coronavirus patients needing a ventilator.

“Every day we are looking at the number of new cases, the number of new hospitalizations, the number of new people on [ventilators] trying to adjust that but right now it’s looking like mid-to-late next week,” Dr. Alex Billioux, Louisiana Department of Health Assistant Secretary, said.

Billioux said the state is working to take action to increase the capacity so that decisions are not having to be made as to who gets a ventilator.

“There’s other things we’re going to try to do to avoid the decisions we’re seeing doctors make in Italy,” Billioux said. “We have ambulatory surgery centers that are not doing elective surgeries right now, they have machines that keep people out and breathing during surgery. Those could potentially be used in the event of needing to leverage them in treating a COVID [Coronavirus] patient.”

Louisiana leaders are trying to find more ventilators -- but with a disaster affecting every state in the country -- it is not easy with every state health department and hospital trying to secure their own inventory.

“A tiny bit of good news, we are allocating 100 ventilators in Region 1 in the New Orleans area and may have access to an additional 100 early next week,” Governor John Bel Edwards said during a press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

Edwards said even if new ventilators are allocated in the next week, the New Orleans area is still hundreds of ventilators short.

New Orleans city officials said they are looking at using the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as a “medical station." Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the facility could treat up to 3,000 patients. Cantrell described the Morial Convention Center being used as a facility to alleviate bed and ventilator availability in the area’s hospitals.

City officials said the convention center will be used for patients who test positive for COVID-19 and can be moved out of hospitals to be treated and recover in another location, freeing up hospital capacity. The city expects to release more information on the convention center’s use in the coming days.

“Our teams on the front lines are working hard, they’re exhausted, and they’re already doing things like stretching protective equipment beyond what we would normally recommend that they do. To keep themselves safe, to keep the patients safe,” Billioux said.

Dr. Billioux said data they’ve seen about ventilator use for COVID-19 patients, shows the average a person is kept on a ventilator is 21 days.

Governor Edwards said the concern is not just for COVID-19 patients, but patients with other illnesses that might require a person to be placed on a ventilator.

“Let me be clear about this, our ventilator capacity is far from okay in Louisiana,” Edwards said. “The problem isn’t just that the cases are growing every day, it’s that they are growing rapidly every day and this alarming growth has a devastatingly fast impact on our resources and our ability to take care of our people.”

The numbers are most severe in the New Orleans area where about half of the region’s ventilators are being used. Dr. Billioux said some of the area’s hospitals have been shuffling patients to continue to maintain their ventilator supply.

“New Orleans luckily has some big systems that can shuffle around, but within those systems, some of their hospitals are very short on [ventilators], some hospitals are already moving patients between their sister hospitals because they’re running out of [ventilator] capacity,” he said. “It’s definitely happening right now, they’re able to shuffle their resources but that’s going to have a limited timeline too.”

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