Staff shortages limit use of last-resort COVID-19 treatment in South

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Many hospitals in the South are short on staff members trained to provide extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a last-resort therapy for severely ill COVID-19 patients, Kaiser Health News reported Sept. 10.

ECMO entails using a machine to pump and oxygenate a patient's blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. Less than 10 percent of hospitals nationwide offer the treatment, as it requires expensive equipment and specially trained staff to provide one-on-one care and constant monitoring.

Demand for ECMO has far exceeded hospitals' ability to provide the therapy during the latest surge. As a result, some hospitals have been forced to make difficult decisions about which patients should receive treatment.

Many hospitals in the South have been waiting to transfer patients to large medical centers that can provide the therapy, but these facilities often have their own COVID-19 patients eligible for ECMO. Mani Daneshmand, MD, director of the ECMO and transplant programs at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, said his hospital is turning down multiple requests a day from facilities across the Southeast to accept patients who need ECMO.

"When you have a 30-year-old or 40-year-old or someone who has just become a parent, you're going to call. We've gotten calls for 18-year-olds," he told Kaiser Health News. "There are a lot of people who are very young who are needing a lot of support, and a lot of them are dying."

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