A respiratory therapist at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital purchased a $10,000 High Velocity Nasal Insufflation system, a mask-free treatment that can be used on some COVID-19 patients who are having difficulty breathing, the hospital announced Thursday.
The new technology from the company Vapotherm allows patients to be treated before resorting to endotracheal intubation, which is a medical procedure where a tube is placed into a person’s mouth or nose. Patients can still eat, talk and take medicine while receiving treatment through the device.
Shari Hymes, who has 35 years experience and lives on the North Fork, first heard about the technology at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital where she also works. Southampton Hospital had already begun treating some COVID-19 patients with the system.
“Everyone’s hearing about ventilators, and we still do need more ventilators,” Ms. Hymes said in a press release. “But with this Vapotherm system, we’ll have an extra option; we don’t have to go right to intubation.”
Patients with respiratory illnesses can be treated in multiple ways before physicians need to resort to intubation and use of a ventilator. Examples include nebulizers, high flow nasal cannulas and bi-level positive airway pressure machines. However, using those increases risk of airborne transmissions to health care workers, according to Stony Brook ELIH.
The Vapotherm high velocity therapy reduces that risk.
“With the mask applied, the dispersion captured is similar to that of patient breathing,” according to Vapotherm’s website.
“All of our staff — and I mean all of us — are working extraordinarily hard to keep themselves, their patients, and this community safe during this unprecedented time,” said Paul Connor, the Greenport hospital’s chief administrative officer, in a statement. “Shari is going above and beyond the call of duty here; she’s one of the many modern-day heroes that make me so proud to be part of this incredible staff.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has consistently spoken about the need for more ventilators to treat the most critical COVID-19 patients. Part of the problem, he has said, is that COVID-19 patients require the use of a ventilator for a much longer period than most patients typically would. Last week he said that ventilators are being used on average between 11 and 21 days, up from the three to four days they were needed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The longer a patient needs to be on a ventilator, the worse their prognosis becomes.
Ms. Hymes said she’s seen the positive effects of the Hi-VNI system at Southampton Hospital.
“It’s a lot more comfortable for the patient as it allows them to sit up in bed and eat, which they couldn’t do while intubated,” she said. “It doesn’t take up a lot of room, and it’s safer for our health care workers.”
Ms. Hymes said she’s never seen anything like the current COVID-19 outbreak during her career.
“We’ve had really bad flu seasons, but nothing like this,” she said.
The ELIH Foundation has started a COVID-19 Action Fund in light of the pandemic to fund critical staff, supplies and bed overflow capacity to prepare for a patient surge.
The community has been there to answer each call, the hospital said.
“I’ve never seen such a sense of community as I do throughout the North Fork,” Ms. Hymes said. “There’s so much we can do; we can all do this.”