With COVID-19 cases rising across the U.S., medical professionals fear there could be a serious ventilator shortage, especially during the projected peak of the outbreak in coming weeks. A February report conducted by Johns Hopkins suggests hospital demand for ventilators could increase by at least 25 percent.
Hoping to provide more of the lifesaving machines, Miami-based plastic surgeon Dr. Adam Rubinstein has started a registry of unused ventilators in plastic surgery offices around the country. His "Take a Breather" initiative aims to connect hospitals with plastic surgeons who can loan out their spare ventilators.
"As a plastic surgeon, there is not a whole lot I am able to do right now," Rubinstein tells New Times. "It occurred to me since I wasn't operating, I've got this ventilator in my office, and you hear a lot in the news about facilities not having enough ventilators for the anticipated need."
Ventilators can be vital for COVID-19 patients in critical condition. The disease affects the lungs, leading to severe respiratory issues or pneumonia. The ventilators help those who cannot breathe on their own as they fight off the virus.
Many doctors' offices have ventilators on hand. But since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis put a halt to nonessential elective medical procedures Friday, it's likely many of the machines are sitting in locked offices in Florida and other states with similar restrictions.
"The idea is to collate a list of ventilators that could be used by facilities that find themselves in a shortfall — but if you wait until there is a shortfall, then it is too late," Rubinstein says. "What this aims to do is try to catalog all the machines that could be available."
Rubinstein hopes the nationwide list will keep hospitals informed about available ventilators in their areas, should they face a shortage. He will coordinate with the State Emergency Response Team to make the list available to hospitals.
"As I am identifying different machines, I'm able to collate the list geographically so should there become a need anywhere, we will have ventilators that could be made available," Rubinstein says. "It is a grassroots effort — the more outreach we get, the more the word gets out. The more ventilators I have on my list, the more people we can help."
Though the ventilators used by plastic surgeons are not designed for use in an intensive care unit, they can be used in life-or-death situations.
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"There are certain software tweaks that I believe can be made to make the ventilator function more long term and be more amendable to long-term ICU care," Rubinstein says. "I imagine that could be something that can be worked out, but if you are that person laying in the hospital bed who needs a ventilator and there is not one there, you would be grateful to have anything. To save a life, I think it is a no-brainer."
After reaching out to his colleagues, Rubinstein says he will be contacting other kinds of medical offices, such as ambulatory surgery facilities. Rather than having the machines collect dust, he hopes they can be used to save lives.
"This is a small way my colleagues and I can chip in and try to help in a time where all of us feel so helpless because there is very little many of us can do besides hygiene, isolation, and what we can do to be socially responsible," Rubinstein says. "This is something we can do professionally. Even though we cannot be operating or helping people right now, we can make use of our resources."
If you are a doctor or medical professional who knows of an unused ventilator — or if you work at a hospital in need of ventilators — please email firstname.lastname@example.org.