New York hospitals can now attempt to treat two coronavirus patients with a single ventilator, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday, a move that could help the state make better use of its scarce supply of lifesaving breathing machines as the outbreak continues to surge.
New York-Presbyterian Hospital has developed a split-ventilation protocol that has been shared with the New York State Department of Health, which quickly approved the practice. Calling the technique “not ideal, but workable,” Cuomo said ventilator splitting may be necessary given some projections that suggest the state may need as many as 30,000 ventilators in the coming weeks.
New York has about 5,000 – 6,000 ventilators, and has purchased an additional 7,000. The state has also received 400 of the lifesaving breathing machines – used to help some of the sickest COVID-19 patients breathe when they are unable to do so on their own – from the federal government’s stockpile.
“Why such a demand? It is a respiratory illness for a large number of people. So they all need ventilators,” Cuomo said Thursday. “Non-COVID patients are normally on ventilators for three to four days. COVID patients are on ventilators for 11 to 21 days. You don’t have the same turnaround.”
With the country facing a potential shortage of hundreds of thousands of ventilators, according to some projections, the technique could soon be replicated in hospitals nationwide.
Other states are conducting experiments of their own: Tufts University Medical Center in Massachusetts is working on a similar protocol that could allow up to four patients to use a single ventilator at once.
But connecting multiple patients to a single ventilator carries its own risks, according to experts, and should only be attempted in serious emergencies.
“This is a crisis provision,” Dr. Lew Kaplan, President of the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), told ABC News, adding that the practice could pose “great” risks to patients.
“This will never be a front-line therapy.”