Maryland received some faulty ventilators ahead of coronavirus surge, U.S. senator says

APR 07, 2020  5:00 AM

In the scramble to locate more ventilators for critically ill coronavirus patients, Maryland received some that did not work, according to Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who has been pushing federal authorities for proper supplies.

Maryland officials have been working to buy ventilators, as well as acquire them from the national stockpile, ahead of an expected surge in COVID-19 cases.

It’s not clear how many ventilators had problems or what was wrong, or even where they came from.

Officials from the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, say only one ventilator so far has been found in disrepair. A state representative, however, issued an urgent call last week for technicians to fix a supply of ventilators that were nonfunctional.

Newly released documents show that ventilators were among supplies Maryland requested from the federal authorities, but the state received only 138 of 200 ventilators on its wish list. The state also received only a small fraction of other supplies it requested, including masks, gloves, face shields and body bags.

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Cardin tied the ventilators to the larger problem of inadequate medical supplies and protective gear during a Friday conference with federal health officials, said Tim Zink, spokesman for Cardin.

“Sen. Cardin is aware of and troubled by the fact that several of the ventilators recently delivered to Maryland from the federal emergency reserves were nonfunctioning,” he said.

“Sen. Cardin considers it patently unacceptable that states are not receiving the resources they need to protect front-line health care workers and help them save lives. He will continue to pressure federal agencies responsible for such shortfalls until Maryland’s needs are met.”

Zink said Monday that the senator believed the regional representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were now working aggressively on “supply chain issues” to better distribute needed equipment.

The shortfalls around the country have alarmed some state leaders, with reports of health providers going without protective equipment and now patients potentially going without ventilators. Companies and individuals have responded by making what supplies they can and donating them.

Maryland has joined other states in developing plans for rationing ventilators if needed.

Ventilators are of particular importance as they supply life-saving oxygen to those most critically ill from the respiratory disease known as COVID-19.

State health officials say Maryland now has 1,250 ventilators available and they are searching for others, including those that may be housed in medical and nursing schools and other health care-related teaching facilities, as well as elective surgery centers.

The state could need more than 1,800 at one time when cases peak, potentially in late April, according to an estimate by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Already, a large number of Maryland’s ICU beds already are going to COVID-19 patients, according to state officials. They said Friday that there are about 180 coronavirus patients in intensive care, representing almost half the ICU beds identified last week as available in the state’s four dozen hospitals. Officials did not say how many required ventilators.

Other states also have been seeking ventilators from federal stockpiles and on the open market. Bloom Energy, the company California hired to service its machines, reports on its website that it is now also working on ventilators from Delaware. A New York Times story recently detailed that a dispute among contractors led to a lapse in the contract to provide upkeep for the machines in the national stockpile.

A spokesperson from Health and Human Services said officials there were not aware of issues with ventilators provided to Maryland and that equipment was maintained based on manufacturer’s specifications.

“For jurisdictions that may have experienced challenges with external battery packs, they were provided with additional technical assistance … on how to charge the batteries and the manufacturer’s recommendation to use AC as the primary power source for these machines,” the statement said.

Mike Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said he was aware of only one faulty ventilator that the state Department of Health purchased with federal grant money and previously distributed into the system. It had a malfunctioning battery and the state swapped it out, he said. It was not from the federal stockpile, he said.

A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, Charles Gischlar, said the agency is checking all of the ventilators it received “to make sure there are no other issues.”

An official with a Baltimore-area company, OEM Medical Solutions LLC, said it had responded to an urgent state appeal for expert technicians to fix ventilators and had spoken Friday with state emergency management officials. The job would be a priority if the firm was asked because it wants to do what it can to help, said Michael Milan, a spokesman for OEM Medical and vice president of the Baltimore Medical Engineers & Technicians Society.

He compared the work to automotive repairs.

“Without going over the systems thoroughly, we could not speculate what it would take to get the machines functional, nor how long it would take, especially if there is a high demand for parts,” Milan said. “We have qualified technicians on staff, as well as a pool of trusted independent contractors should we need to scale up for such a project.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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