Ventilator delivered to Rangely by local pilots

RANGELY | Like other hospitals in the country, Rangely District Hospital started planning and preparing for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients weeks ago. After evaluating available equipment, they determined they had a need for a ventilator that would meet long-term support requirements for a potential COVID-19 patient.

“A fear as a rural hospital is bed availability in the bigger facilities as the pandemic peaks,” said RDH CEO Kyle Wren via email. “We want to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios, hoping they never come to fruition.”

The three ventilators RDH had on hand are not for long-term use, according to Jodi Dillon, Public Information Officer for Rangely Incident Command (IC) during the COVID-19 pandemic and RDH Business Office Manager. One ventilator was designed for home care use, and the other two were designed for use while transporting patients to another facility. With the help of IC logistics officer Travis Mobley, the hospital started the search for a new ventilator.

“Twice we thought we had sourced an adequate ventilator, only to have it fall through,” Dillon said.

RDH Chief Nursing Officer Paulo Fernandez reached out to Ben Anderson with the Colorado Hospital Association for help. “Within 24 hours Paulo received a phone call to meet Angel Flight at the airport to pick up the ventilator,” Dillon said.

Angel Flight West is a non-profit, volunteer organization that arranges free, non-emergency air travel for children and adults with serious medical conditions and other compelling needs. In the current situation, they are applying their services toward COVID-19 issues as well.

Last Wednesday, Meeker pilot David Cole, who usually transports neurology and oncology patients for St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, put in an application with Angel Flight West. On Thursday morning he heard word that Rio Blanco County had its first positive COVID-19 case.

“Thursday night I got a call about a ventilator,” Cole said.

Cole and Meeker’s Bradley Sullivan, due for a flight review and instrument proficiency check on Friday anyway, took off from Meeker to Centennial Airport near Denver. Upon arrival they were handed homemade masks.

Getting the ventilator into the plane took some effort. They had to partially dismantle the 5-½ by 2 ft. machine to fit through a 21 inch opening in the plane.

“It took five people,” Cole said. He thanked the plane’s owner, Jeff Posey of Aspen, for volunteering the use of his plane and the fuel costs.

Upon arrival in Rangely, a team from RDH picked up the ventilator for transport to the hospital.

“Words can’t say enough for how thankful we are for each of them. The organizations involved were Project Cure, Government PPE Task Force, Colorado Hospital Association and Angel Flight. We feel better equipped now to take care of a COVID-19 critical patient long-term having the newly acquired ventilator,” Wren said

“With reports of Colorado hospitals being short 5,000 ICU beds, our concern was we could have a critical ICU patient without a bed at a higher acuity hospital available. This ensures we can keep a critical patient long term if needed,” Dillon said. “There are no words to articulate what a donation of this magnitude means to us as a facility and our community,” Dillon said.

The county’s collaborative incident command system structure helped push the ventilator request through channels “further and faster,” Dillon said.

Cole has since flown an oncology flight to Craig, and said it’s the first time in his career he’s had a plane full of people wearing masks. His advice, after “hanging out” with health professionals, is to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously. “It’s coming to a place near you,” he said.