On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it had issued an Emergency Use Authorization that allows for the emergency use by hospitals to modify anesthesia gas machines and other positive pressure breathing devices to use as ventilators. I emailed representatives of the Polk  County Health Department, Broadlawns Medical Center, UnityPoint Health and MercyOne to ask whether this move would substantially help the health systems to increase their ventilator capacity. 

I received a prompt email response through MercyOne’s communications department from Dr. Hijinio Carreon, chief medical officer of MercyOne Central, which provided some insight into how medical leaders like him are viewing potential equipment shortages. 

“If a severe surge in COVID-19 cases were to occur in Iowa, there is a possibility shortages of mechanical ventilators would arise, and medical care standards would be adjusted to most effectively provide care and save as many lives as possible,” Carreon wrote. 

“Stories shared from overseas of cases where physicians have been forced to choose which patients to save are not why any of us pursued a career in medicine. We became physicians to reduce harm and promote life. Although triaging treatment of patients – or determining who needs immediate medical attention first, based on the acuity of injury or illness – occurs frequently in medicine, these decisions are typically based on ethical and moral standards, not on limited or lack of supplies. 

“This Emergency Use Authorization demonstrates the ability of our legislators to react during this pandemic by helping to increase the U.S. ventilator inventory so we, as physicians, do not have to make the decisions that would prioritize individual care based on health care policy. It also ensures our community has access to the life-saving devices they need! 

“Given the limited Personal Protective Equipment across the country, states are currently competing for products such as N95 respirators. Provided that Iowa has not been impacted as profoundly as other states, we suspect such products may be diverted to such areas. However, we are hopeful that such imported equipment would be available to our health care providers, if and when we find ourselves in a similar situation.” 

As mentioned during Gov. Kim Reynolds’ daily COVID-19 update on Sunday, the medical community is currently developing a coordinated response plan to handle a peak caseload of COVID-19 cases, which is estimated could occur within the next two to three weeks. That plan is expected to be released on Thursday. 

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