UPDATED April 7
Gov. Charlie Baker requested 1,700 ventilators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but only received about 100, something the state’s congressional delegation called “grossly insufficient” for the state’s response to an expected increase in COVID-19 cases.
In a conversation with The Times, U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, D-Bourne, said it’s imperative that the federal government listen to Baker about the state’s needs. “It’s hypocritical of the president to say the governors are in the best position to know about social distancing, but not how many ventilators they need,” Keating said, referring to President Donald Trump’s repeated insistence that it should be up to governors to call for stay-at-home orders.
The Massachusetts congressional delegation sent a letter warning that hospitals in Massachusetts are on the verge of exhausting the life-saving equipment they have available, the State House News Service reported.
“We have heard from hospitals in the state that they will run out of invasive ventilators in a matter of days and will run out of other ventilators that can be adapted for use for COVID-19 patients within a week,” lawmakers wrote. “Given the growing need in Massachusetts, approving and sending only 100 ventilators to Massachusetts is grossly insufficient, and FEMA can and must do more to help Massachusetts during this crisis.”
Baker has said projections show the state could have as many as 172,000 cases when the expected surge hits between April 10 and April 20. As of Monday, the state has nearly 14,000 confirmed cases.
Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has only six ventilators and its president and CEO Denise Schepici has been on record that a surge in cases could overwhelm the Island hospital, which has just 25 beds and 3 ICU beds.
Keating told The Times that a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients could be quickly put together at Joint Base Cape Cod (JBCC). That hospital would be for patients who still need care, but aren’t in serious condition, leaving the region’s other hospitals for more acute care. Cape Cod Healthcare is working with the military to set up the JBCC facility, Keating said.
“You listen to people on front lines, [Cape Cod Healthcare CEO] Mike Lauf is concerned about a surge and acute needs. Hospitals would be overwhelmed,” Keating said. “…It’s meant to be a reserve, freeing up the space in the [other] hospitals for acute care needs of people with pneumonia and COVID-19.”
The hospitals are doing their part to be prepared. “I hope it’s never necessary,” Keating said of the JBCC facility. “Just as we prepare for a hurricane. Can you imagine if we knew there was a hurricane coming and we didn’t have shelters for people set up and people died and were injured? This hurricane has landed and we need to have that option there. It’s there to free up space in hospitals.”
On Tuesday, Cape Healthcare issued an advisory alerting the public that the base facility does not yet exist and is not accepting patients. “There are reports of people arriving at Joint Base Cape Cod looking for the recently announced medical facility,” the release states. “Please note that this facility is not up and not operational. We are still in the planning stages. Please do not go to the base. As we prepare for a potential surge related to COVID -19, we have yet to determine what role the facility will play in our collective response. We do not want to jeopardize the overall security of the base and also to protect the important personnel located there.”
Updated to include the advisory from Cape Cod Healthcare. -ed