Pandemic: Demand for oxygen leaves some hospitals' supply depleted before expected COVID surge

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- Oxygen and the medical supplies associated with it are hard to come by in parts of Southern California and some hospital administrators worry they'll have to choose which patients get these resources during the next COVID-19 surge.

The chief executive officer of Riverside Community Hospital, Jackie Vanblaricum, said with nearly 240 COVID-19 patients in their care Wednesday, staff here were in great need of the gas.

That demand will only go up if cases increase as expected.

"If we anticipate our COVID census doubling almost by January 18th, it's gonna be hard for any of the suppliers to maintain our oxygen levels," Vanblaricum said.

Riverside Community Hospital was not alone.

In a statement, the Vice President of Support Services and Sustainable Resources Officer of Kaiser Permanente, Scott Wendling, said the demand for the gas and other critical-care supplies is up:

In hospitals everywhere, the current surge has increased exponentially the demand for oxygen and other critical-care supplies. At the same time, the surge has affected the workforces of our vendors who source those supplies. Where possible, Kaiser Permanente is working with those vendors to help mitigate vendor staff shortages and so far, our plans are working even as conditions, needs, and priorities change.

Businesses delivering oxygen concentrators to hospice patients at home were seeing delays too.

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The Operations Manager for Carelife Medical Equipment and Supplies, Rex Cabado, tried to prepare by ordering ahead.

"When this second wave hit it went out so fast and I can't even believe it and so when I started ordering again before my inventory had ran out the manufacturers ... already back-ordered for about eight weeks," Cabado said.

The CEO of Riverside Community said once during the pandemic, their 11,000 gallon oxygen tank got down to 30 percent.

That's dangerous.

Dropping below that level puts the hospital into what they call "crisis standard of care," where healthcare workers are forced to choose who gets a fighting chance to live.

"Where you have teams of folks determining who gets high flow or ventilator and who doesn't," Vanblaricum said.

Vanblaricum said they liked to see their oxygen tank at least 85 percent full. The CEO said it was at 70 percent Wednesday.

In Orange County, spokespeople with UCI Health and Providence hospitals said their oxygen supplies were stable.
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