With each surge in the COVID pandemic, there have been different needs for oxygen concentrators and that has included Odessa Regional Medical Center.
An oxygen concentrator is a machine that takes in air from the room and filter out nitrogen. The process provides the higher amounts of oxygen needed for oxygen therapy.
“Normal air that we breathe has 21 percent oxygen and an oxygen concentrator can take that air in and concentrate it up to a higher percent oxygen which means the only thing you’re breathing in is oxygen,” Dr. Rohith Saravanan said. “Depending on how someone’s lung is functioning, a normal, healthy lung will be able to take in air that has 21 percent oxygen and get enough oxygen into the blood stream and that is enough for the body to sustain normal operation.
However, an unhealthy lung, for example, during a respiratory illness such as COVID can be unable to get enough oxygen into the bloodstream.
“I’m thinking on one medical condition but really any medical condition that affects the lungs can have this problem,” Saravanan said.
“That’s the need for oxygen concentrators because if you have oxygen in a tank, you can give someone oxygen but when the tank runs out, you run out. You have a machine that’s like a concentrator, you don’t run out of a tank because it’s not working off a tank. It’s concentrating the oxygen that it’s pulling from the atmospheric air. So that’s the need for oxygen concentrators, for people who are in need of oxygen for long periods of time, we’re not talking about hours, we’re talking days, even weeks. Those people need oxygen concentrators. It keeps them mobile. It keeps them out of the hospital.”
Recently at ORMC, during the latest surge from the OMICRON variant, there was an increased need for oxygen concentrators.
“At ORMC, when we have a surge of COVID, you’re going to have several of those people that are very sick and need to be admitted and some of those people that are sick but not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, they can probably be discharged home with a low level oxygen need, maybe 40 percent or 50 percent,” Saravanan said. “If we can discharge them home, that helps them being in their house and it helps the hospital by not filling up the beds with patients that don’t necessarily need to be there.”
Recently, ORMC has been in critical need of oxygen concentrators and asking the public to return concentrators to the organization from where they got them from if they don’t need them anymore.
“When you have a large respiratory disease like this became a pandemic, you have several people using those oxygen concentrators at home and the companies that normally supply them, they maintain a certain amount of inventory but when it runs out, you’re left with no oxygen concentrators available for those patients that could be discharged from the hospital but don’t have access to an oxygen concentrator anymore, that’s where the shortage comes in,” Saravanan said.
That’s what the Odessa community was going through for several weeks during the surge, most recently.
However, Saravanan has added that it’s not as huge of an issue now because of the COVID numbers that have started to come down.
“At ORMC (Tuesday) for example, we only had 10 patients with COVID,” Saravanan said.
As of 8:30 a.m. Friday, there were 26 COVID patients in-house at Medical Center Hospital, seven in Critical Care and 19 COVID patients in Med-Surg (non-critical). Five of those patients were on ventilator. Two were vaccinated and two were unvaccinated and one was unknown.
“We’ve had four surges since this pandemic started,” Saravanan said. “This is the omicron surge that we saw last. There’s an increase and there’s a decrease. We’re on the way down on the omicron surge. At the peak of the surge, we had almost 40 patients in the hospital with COVID and that’s just us (at ORMC).
If there’s a bigger question that Saravanan wants to address, it’s the need to be safe from the virus and get vaccinated.
“Yes, we’re talking about oxygen concentrators but the bigger question is how can we reduce our need for oxygen concentrators overall?” Saravanan said. “And that’s by not having people get severely ill by this condition and the way to do that is by preventing the spread of the illness by socially distancing and wearing a mask and secondly, preventing disease by getting the vaccine.”
Saravanan said that the Odessa community is at about 45 percent vaccination rate.
“If you look at the state of Texas as a whole, were at about 60 percent so we’re behind the eight ball, not in the state but in our nation. The message to the community is use every resource you have to prevent this disease from spreading. If you can do that, then hopefully our need for oxygen concentrators will be less, even in future surges.”
“So if you take Medical Center Hospital and you take 250-300 patients, between the three hospitals, that’s very abnormal because you don’t have one disease that takes up that many beds in our local hospital, especially when you have heart attacks and broken bones and all the other things. One disease should not take that many beds. At the height of the surge, this was a huge problem. But as we’re coming down, this is a little less of a problem. The message for the community and how they can help is that if somebody got an oxygen concentrator for themselves and had used it for let’s say, two weeks and they don’t need it anymore, those patients tend to forget about the oxygen concentrators. It sits in the corner of the room but they’re not returning just yet. So the message to the community and how they can help is they can return the oxygen concentrators bask to the vendors from where they came so that it can be cleaned and ready and another can use it. That’s the message for the community.”