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Hospitals Get Creative To Get Medical Supplies And Equipment

Stony Brook University
Stony Brook iCREATE Director David Ecker with a face shield.


As the wave of coronavirus patients hits Long Island, hospitals are – out of necessity – coming up with creative solutions to make, conserve, or amplify the supplies they have on hand. This may help bridge what officials say will be a 25,000 shortage of ventilators.



Charlie McMachon is in a room filled with racks and racks 3D printers all printing medical face shields. 

“It just lays down layer after layer of plastic until it makes whatever it is you’re trying to buil,d, he said.


McMachon runs IT for Stony Brook University. As the coronavirus was approaching, and hospitals started worrying about a supply shortage, he read an article about someone upstate printing face shields. He sent that article to the student 3D print shop and asked if they could do the same.


“The manager called me back about four hours later and said, yeah we can do this, and he was actually wearing a prototype.”


McMachon took it over to the hospital and the doctors had a couple of design changes they wanted to make the shields more comfortable to wear. Now Stony Brook is making 40 shields a day. This is just one example of all the ways hospitals are mavericking and then sharing with other hospitals across the country.


Carol Gomes is Stony Brook Hospital’s CEO.


“We have a small group of people who are basically receiving this information that we are receiving from all over and vetting, is this an appropriate use?”


Another idea that stuck, according to Gomes, is extending IV tubes. Buying plastic tubing and extending IV stands means staff don’t have to get close to a COVID-positive patient and put on a mask.


“Monitoring the patient, monitoring the IV pump, but not necessarily having to expend the use of precious precious PPE walking in and out of the patient’s room.”


A more untested example is what’s called splitting or amplifying a ventilator. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state has 15,000 ventilators, 25,000 less than what he says could be needed.


“We use one ventilator for two patients. It’s difficult to perform, it’s experimental, but at this point we have no alternatives so we’re working on this experimental application" he said on Tuesday.


The technique was pioneered in part by Charlene Irvin Babcock who wrote a paper about it 14 years ago and then, two weeks ago, posted a video about it on YouTube.


In the six-minute video, she walks step by step through the process of turning normal hospital supplies into what is essentially an amplifier for ventilators. Saud Anwar is a critical care pulmonologist and also a Connecticut state senator outside of Hartford. 


“So we have done it with models, we have not done it with patients. So we have these artificial lungs to get them the ventilation and checks to make sure," he said.


Before coronavirus, the only real life examples of splitting a ventilator that Anwar had read about was after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting where hundreds of people were shot and needed help breathing. In theory, doctors could split a ventilator twice and serve four patients. Which, again in theory, New York’s 15,000 ventilators could serve 60,000 patients. But, Anwar says, it’s complicated.


“Each one of those lungs similar in their size, similar in their compliance, and similar in their air resistance, otherwise the air may go more to one lung and less to another.”


Governor Cuomo approved the splitting of ventilators on Thursday.


Cuomo has continued to pressure the federal government to release more ventilators from its stockpile. He describes what he calls a “rolling deployment” of supplies. Where, instead of spreading the federal stockpile around the country, the ventilators move with the virus as it spreads.


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Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.
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