Why ventilators are so important for COVID-19 patients

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) We've talked a lot during this coronavirus crisis about the national shortage of ventilators and how they are needed to provide lifesaving care. But what exactly are they? Our Kelly O'Brien shows you.

"They're fairly complicated," said Dr. Wouter Rietsema of the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.

Ventilators are not something that just anyone admitted into a hospital will use. They are designed to help critically ill patients breathe.

"Pushes that breath into the patient through a tube that goes into their mouth or nose and works its way down the trachea and into the lungs," Rietsema explained.

Prior to COVID-19, the machines were used in respiratory failure cases and during surgery when people went under anesthesia.

Even during this pandemic, not everyone who tests positive will need a ventilator.

"The reality is a lot of people don't need mechanical ventilation," Rietsema said.

The doctor says the hospital has plenty on ventilators for the number of cases currently in the region, but that could change as the virus spreads.

Downstate, New York City is considered the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic. They don't have nearly enough ventilators there to help the worst-case scenario patients that need them.

So the state is trying something new-- split ventilators, which share the oxygen between two patients in need. The patients get the same amount of oxygen, at the same pace, using two separate tubes from one machine.

"That's not a desirable situation," Rietsema said. "You don't have the ability to necessarily tailor the needs of each individual patient."

Right now, CVPH says they are not using any split ventilators at the hospital.