Israeli Hospital Heads Warn of Shortage in ECMO Machines

Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital team members wearing safety gear in the coronavirus ward. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A nationwide shortage of ECMO machines used to treat some critical COVID-19 cases could deprive some patients of the life-saving treatment, Israeli hospital directors warned in a meeting with top Health Ministry officials Sunday, Yediot Acharonot reported.

An ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine is designed to provide prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to persons whose heart and lungs are unable to provide an adequate amount of gas exchange or perfusion to sustain life.

According to Rambam Health Care Campus Director General Dr. Michael Halbertal, his hospital is dealing with about 150 patients in need of intensive care treatment per 60 intensive care beds, with 38 patients waiting to be triaged and twelve others awaiting surgery.

Halbertal added that the hospital would have been completely overrun if it weren’t for the mortality rate climbing to an unprecedented 20% of hospitalized patients due to the mountainous workload.

Health Ministry chief Prof. Nachman Ash said that 40 patients were currently connected to ECMO machines across the country, which is only 4 fewer than the peaks of the previous wave that hit Israel before it launched its coronavirus vaccine campaign. The number of patients on ventilators, however, stood at around 200 compared to 300 in the third wave.

Head of Galilee Medical Center Prof. Mas’ad Barhoum said that Israel must purchase more ECMO machines since the shortage in the life-saving devices could force medical teams to prioritize saving some patients over others.

“This fourth [COVID] wave is tough, the medical crews are exhausted, fatigue has taken its toll, and we’re already preparing for the fifth and sixth waves,” he said.

Director of Hillel Yaffe Medical Center Dr. Mickey Dudkiewicz said that his hospital’s coronavirus ward faced 130% occupancy on Sunday, which he described as a “relatively calm workday.”

Dudkiewicz said that “sometimes patients who need ECMO are transferred [to other hospitals] without being connected [to a machine],” since the Hadera hospital has none.

“We need those machines in order to save lives and to provide a standard treatment, which every patient in Israel deserves,” he said.


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