Johnson County hospitals confident in ventilator supply, leaders say

Leaders at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Mercy Iowa City say that their hospitals have enough ventilators between those that have been ordered


Ryan Adams

UIHC Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan speaks during a media availability event at the IMU on March 4, 2020. The University of Iowa officials spoke to reporters about the UI's actions regarding coronavirus.

Rachel Schilke and Sarah Watson

Johnson County area hospital leaders are confident in their supplies of ventilators as they prepare for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients. 

According to a projection by the University of Washington’s IHME update Tuesday, Iowa will need 127 invasive ventilators. About one in six COVID-19 patients require hospitalization, and ventilators aid in supplying oxygen to the patient. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds warned on Monday that Iowa should brace for a “difficult” week in fighting the novel coronavirus. The Iowa Department of Public Health has confirmed 1,028 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state, with 102 of those being announced on Tuesday. Negative tests number 11,670.

University of Iowa Health Care Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said Tuesday during a Johnson County press conference that the hospital has enough ventilators at the moment with those ordered and received. 

“I can tell you that looking at that (University of Washington) data and our surge plan, we feel like we have enough ventilators at the University of Iowa with those that we have ordered, with those that we’ve received from the state and with conversion of anesthesia machines to treat those patients,” Brennan said.

UIHC currently has 17 COVID-19 inpatients and has treated 27 patients with COVID-19 overall. In the state, 107 people are hospitalized for the virus.

Brennan also said that UIHC wasn’t to a point where the hospital needed specialists to switch to treating COVID-19 patients, but that the UIHC had in general been training nurses for duties that may be outside of their daily tasks. 

Mercy Iowa City President and Director of Communications Margaret Reese said as of 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, there are two positive cases at the hospital and one awaiting inpatient results. She said the hospital has treated 30 people at the hospital overall and over 2,000 through tele-health since March 30.

Reese said the hospital feels it has an “adequate” number of ventilators now and for the foreseeable future if there isn’t a huge surge in patients. She added that’s why she’s imploring people to practice social distancing.

“We feel we are prepared now. We have received some additional ventilators through Johnson County and the state and we have had conversations and are prepared to convert anesthesiology machines into ventilators but we don’t feel like we’re at that point yet by a long shot,” Reese said.

She also said that the hospital has surveyed its medical staff to see who has qualifications or a intensive care background to help with ventilators. The hospital has directed them to refresh their training, but hasn’t needed those people.

However she said Mercy needs isolation gowns and appreciates donates of homemade personal protection equipment and hand sanitizer.

As far as personal protective equipment, hospitals have had to look to unusual places for equipment to keep hospital workers safe, such as 3D-printed face shields.

Brennan said sterilization services created by the Iowa Department of Public Health and UIHC allow the reprocessing of masks, which means staff members can re-wear N95 masks up to four times before discarding them. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending this weekend that all Americans should wear homemade masks while in public to prevent transmission of the virus in case people aren’t aware they have the virus.

Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch said the cloth masks wouldn’t protect mask wearers from getting sick, but would prevent the spread of the virus if someone was asymptomatic.

“You may be protecting others,” Koch said, “…but it may not protect you from getting it. Make sure you educate others by reaching out. Physical distancing of six feet and hand washing are still the most important things.

Director of Johnson County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Dave Wilson said at the Tuesday conference meeting that currently Johnson County has 44 ventilators and 21,065 masks. He said that no one facility has priority over the other unless they are in short supply.

“Right now, N95 masks are in high demand,” Wilson said. “It’s a global shortage and a global problem. These materials are not made in the U.S. None of these ventilators [that we have] came from a tree outside, they came from our prepared stash.”

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