Fla. fire departments poised to loan ambulance ventilators to hospitals

Eleven fire departments in Palm Beach County have agreed to lend their combined 70 ventilators to hospitals if the need arises


Olivia Hitchcock
The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Chief Diana Matty has heard the cries of doctors across the country: They need ventilators.

As Palm Beach County braces for a potential spike in coronavirus cases, the West Palm Beach fire chief has coordinated efforts with the county's 10 other fire departments to let hospitals know they are poised to loan ventilators, should the need arise.

A pneumatically actuated ventilator that is used by the West Palm Beach Fire Department. The device has settings for breaths per minute and flow volume from an attached compressed oxygen bottle. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic 911 calls have increased in the area, said Fire Chief Diana Matty. (Photo/Thomas Cordy, palmbeachpost.com)
A pneumatically actuated ventilator that is used by the West Palm Beach Fire Department. The device has settings for breaths per minute and flow volume from an attached compressed oxygen bottle. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic 911 calls have increased in the area, said Fire Chief Diana Matty. (Photo/Thomas Cordy, palmbeachpost.com)

Together, the departments have about 70 ventilators available to loan to hospitals to help treat patients with the respiratory virus, said Matty, who also serves as president of Palm Beach County Fire Chiefs Association.

"It's a stopgap measure in a time of crisis," she said.

The ventilators are simple versions of high-tech machines at hospitals, "a rotary phone in a world of iPhones," she said.

"These are rudimentary. They are very basic, but they will keep somebody alive as long as there's oxygen," Matty explained.

The coronavirus, the respiratory virus that has put the country and much of the world on standstill, infects cells in the lining of the lungs and can develop into other lung conditions, such as pneumonia.

In severe cases, patients can develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, which requires them to be placed on a ventilator to supply oxygen. Without the machines, some patients would die.

Rescue crews use the ventilators for longer drives, so paramedics do not have to manually work the hand-powered resuscitators, or Ambu bags, Matty said. For example, West Palm Beach fire crews might use them when taking a patient from the Ibis Golf & Country Club community on the west end of the city to one of the hospitals on the city's east side.

But they are not a necessity, which is why she and chiefs across the county are prepared to hand them over to local hospitals should they have the need.

"We can squeeze it with our hands for a couple miles, where they can't do that for days," Matty said.

Palm Beach County's only public hospital, Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade, has 17 ventilators, said Robin Kish, director of community engagement for the Health Care District of Palm Beach County. The facility has 70 beds, according to the state's Agency for Health Care Administration.

Other hospitals in the county either declined to say how many they had or did not respond to calls from The Palm Beach Post.

Tenet Healthcare owns two trauma hospitals, Delray Medical Center and St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, along with Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center and West Boca Medical Center.

It sent an emailed statement saying the centers have "the necessary equipment, including ventilators, and supplies to react accordingly" to the coronavirus, adding that they are monitoring information from federal, state and local health officials.

Similarly, a spokesperson for JFK Medical Center's main campus in Atlantis and north campus in West Palm Beach only would say that the facilities currently have enough ventilators to treat patients but "are continuously assessing our resources."

A spokesman for Boca Raton Memorial Hospital and the two Bethesda hospitals in the Boynton Beach area said "all are prepared to care for COVID-19 patients" and all "have ventilator capacity." Administrators there also are working with state and local leaders.

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©2020 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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