Hospitals in South run low on oxygen amid COVID, storm

Shira Stein
Bloomberg News

Hospitals in the Southeast are running low on oxygen, with the worst-hit left only 12 to 14 hours worth, said Premier Inc., a hospital-supply purchasing group.

This comes amid the region’s struggle over the summer with high numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Now Hurricane Ida is set to hit the Gulf Coast in the coming days.

Premier has notified the White House, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Health and Human Services department about the scarcity of oxygen in the region, said Blair Childs, Premier’s senior vice president of public affairs.

There is “so much more demand for oxygen than there ever has been,” Childs said.

Lauren Debroeck, who is on oxygen as she recovers from COVID-19, talks to her husband, Michael, who also contracted COVID-19 and is being kept alive with the help of an oxygenation machine, at the Willis-Knighton Medical Center in Shreveport, La., Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hospitals in Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia are all reaching dangerously low amounts of oxygen, with many relying on reserve tanks.

The hospitals can get resupplied, but most are only able to get a few days’ worth of oxygen at a time, rather than a full order, Premier said.

COVID-19 can damage patients’ lungs, which means doctors need to deliver higher oxygen concentrations to get their breathing to adequate levels. Doctors and nurses also need more supplies to deliver oxygen to the high numbers of COVID-19 patients in their hospitals.

Louisiana Children’s Medical Center, a major hospital system, planned to discharge as many patients as possible before the storm hit.

Florida hospitals currently have 16,163 COVID-19 patients, taking up 33% of intensive care unit beds as of Thursday, according to the Florida Hospital Association.

Florida hospitals began sounding the alarm on the oxygen shortages in early August, attributing the difficulties to a lack of drivers who are qualified to transport oxygen and restrictions around how long truck drivers can be on the road.

Those issues likely indicate a broader coming shortage of medical supplies, supply chain consultants said at the time.