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Local anesthesiologists converting machines to ventilators

Local anesthesiologists converting machines to ventilators

From the Coronavirus collection: March 22 through April 15 series

Unlike most of the state, Saratoga Hospital is not anticipating a problem with ventilators during the pandemic.

The hospital is ready to convert all of its anesthesia machines into ventilators. That would give it 48 ventilators. Usually, only two are in use at any given time.

“If all the social distancing and all the good public health quarantining and isolating are done, we are confident the ventilators we have are more than adequate,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Falivena.

At Glens Falls Hospital, where the machines are also being converted, they will have 55 total ventilators.

“Ventilator use over the last few weeks — remember we are in flu season — has varied from as low as four to as high as eight or nine,” spokesman Ray Agnew said. That would mean the hospital would have at least 46 ventilators for a surge of coronavirus patients.

“We have already converted one machine and have it in test use. Conversion is a quick turnaround with the right parts in place,” he added.

It takes about an hour per machine, but the hospital needs more parts, he said.

“We have received a partial shipment of what is needed and are expecting more soon,” he said.

It’s not hard to turn the machines into ventilators. In essence, an anesthesia machine is a complicated ventilator.

“The regular ventilator in the ICU just delivers oxygen. The anesthesia machine can do all that but it also vaporizes anesthetic gases,” Falivena said. “You just turn off the anesthetic gases part.”

It’s not quite as simple as flipping a switch. It would take Saratoga Hospital about 72 hours to convert all 22 machines, he said.

In a worst-case scenario, if the hospital is faced with more than 48 patients who need ventilators, it has a plan to stretch them further.

“Frankly, what we’re talking about is using the same ventilator if push came to shove — having patients of similar size and demand for oxygen link so one ventilator can drive breathing for more than one person,” he said.

It was done in Las Vegas in 2017 in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival. Hospitals were overwhelmed by a sudden influx of patients arriving all at the same time. They found that they could link two people to one ventilator. It has also been done internationally, and the state Department of Health recently said it would allow the practice during the pandemic.

The reason the hospital might need to do that is because coronavirus patients tend to need ventilators for 11 to 21 days, on average, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The typical patient only needs a ventilator for a couple of days.

“So you don’t have the same turnaround,” he said in Thursday’s press conference.

There are about 2,000 anesthesia machines at hospitals in the state and they are all being converted, he said.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on

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