'All the machines are in use': Respiratory device needed for COVID-19 patients in short supply

A lifesaving device for severe COVID-19 cases is hard to find right now. Many patients are waiting to get access to an ECMO machine. The device helps their lungs as they fight the deadly virus.

Hospitals across our state don't have enough devices to meet the high demand.

Anna Adams with the Georgia Hospital Association said the machines are usually used in very rare instances like with premature babies or someone waiting for a lung transplant.

The device basically takes over the work of your heart and lungs to give them time to rest and heal.

"If you don’t want to be on the search for an ECMO machine, please get vaccinated," Adams told Reporter Brian Hill.

As the country experiences this fourth surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adams said there's a high demand for the lifesaving device.

"It's something you do only in a situation where the patient is out of options when it comes to both oxygenation and the removal of carbon dioxide from their blood," she said. 

The problem is that many facilities don't have the capability to provide ECMO services.

Adams told us out of the roughly 160 hospitals in the GHA, only about 25 facilities have the device.

"Patients go onto our website and ask for assistance locating a facility who has ECMO. Our hospitals are reaching out to us. Even as we try, there's often just not an option available. All the machines are in use," she detailed.

Piedmont Healthcare told FOX 5 News that when Piedmont Atlanta Hospital hits its limit of ECMO circuits, ICU beds, or the specialized staff needed to care for the patient, they must go on ECMO diversion.

"We've even resorted to going outside of the state of Georgia to try and give these patients the best chance possible at survival," Adams said. 

Healthcare experts told us the device has been shown to help in cases of severe COVID illness but requires a highly specialized staff.

Adams said in most of these cases, the patient is unvaccinated.

"It's meant to be used as kind of a last-ditch effort for patients who are not oxygenating properly," she detailed.

Even though the high demand for this device is high right now, Adams said facilities probably won't bring more in.

"Adding a piece of equipment that is this expensive and that requires this level of specialty, it doesn't make sense to try and get more of them when typically outside of COVID, they're just gonna sit there," she explained. 

Piedmont encourages the unvaccinated to do so quickly, and for everyone to keep wearing a mask, watch your distance and wash your hands.

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