Ventilators: how they work and why they’re so important during COVID-19 pandemic

Updated: Mar. 27, 2020 at 9:55 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A ventilator is a vital piece of equipment that can keep a COVID-19 patient alive. We learn how it works and how it helps.

A ventilator is a machine that helps a patient breathe by pushing air into their lungs when the lungs don't work on their own.

It is hooked up through the mouth to a tube that is inserted into a patient's airway.

"This is your kind of simulated lung, so it forces air in and has the lung expand and so with different settings that we can adjust, we can make sure that the patient's blood is oxygenated enough and that we're taking out carbon dioxide," said Dr. Vivian Keenan, a pulmonary critical care physician at Samaritan Medical Center.

She says COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system and a small percentage of people who get the disease will need to use a ventilator to breathe.

Samaritan has 33 ventilators that can be used if needed and 42 rooms that the equipment can be hooked up in.

While Governor Cuomo has said the state doesn't have enough ventilators, Keenan says Samaritan is pretty well set.

"We are very different in terms of the demographics, population than New York City. I understand New York City is going through some very trying times. For what we have so far in terms of what we're experiencing in the community with coronavirus, I think we're very well prepared for right now," she said.

The hospital is also prepared when it comes to staff that can manage the ventilators.

It has 5 board certified pulmonary critical care physicians and plans for other doctors to step in if needed.

With just 5 confirmed cases in Jefferson County, the health officials say they are cautiously optimistic that the north country won't be hit by the coronavirus like other parts of the state have been. But, they've been watching and preparing.

"We're taking the lessons that the New York City physicians are kind of undergoing right now, their critical care intensivists. We have been in contact with them in terms of protocols and things that they are implementing in their hospital so we're able to take the lessons that they're teaching us right now so we can be prepared if we need to be," said Keenan.

“We are ready to give healthcare needs to our community,” said Lindsay Bickel, registered respiratory therapist.

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