Coronavirus prompts wealthy to attempt ventilators purchase despite potential shortage

Ventec Life Systems will not sell to private people, company officials said

Life-saving medical devices like ventilators are becoming increasingly in demand at hospitals facing a shortage of the machines with an onslaught of potential coronavirus cases.

Ventec Life System, a ventilator supply based in Seattle, has been fielding requests from more than 65 countries, U.S. states and local authorities, and a number of high net worth individuals who have been calling in for the medical devices that can save patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Life-saving ventilators are becoming more in demand as hospitals face a potential shortage. 

"There have been individuals as well as a lot of folks who are worried that the government or their hospital won't have a ventilator for their loved ones," Chris Brooks, chief strategy officer at Ventec Life System, told FOX Business Wednesday.

The med-tech company went from fielding hundreds of orders to thousands during the past few weeks coronavirus pandemic. Its production will increase from 150 ventilators a month to close to 1,000, Brooks said.

"We're not selling to individuals, we're selling to hospital systems and governments who are on the front-lines of response where demand is right now," Brooks said. “This is not a consumer item. We can train folks quickly on them, but it’s not something that is out to the highest bidder."

Ventilators, which pump oxygen into the lungs of patients who are unable to breathe on their own, can cost as little as $25,000, but some could cost more than $50,000 each. The machines are crucial to prevent respiratory failure, which has been a common cause of death among patients with COVID-19.

It’s unclear, however, how many exist. A study from 2009, the latest available, said there are around 62,000 ventilators in hospitals throughout the country. Another 99,000 obsolete units could also be taken out of storage in an emergency, according to the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

“The need for ventilation services during a severe pandemic could quickly overwhelm these day-to-day operational capabilities,” a February report from Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security urged.

While all hospitals have ventilators, there are hardly enough for a fraction of the number of beds. For example, a hospital with an average of 150 beds could have 20 ventilators available, Dr. Eric Toner, who studies hospital preparedness for pandemics at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security told NPR.

US Med-Equip, a major rental company, reported that hospitals in the United States have rented 60 percent more ventilators, monitors and other medical equipment during the past few weeks at its Houston headquarters. The company said it has rented 6,500 ventilators to clients and anticipates 1,200 more to arrive in the next few weeks at its headquarters in Houston.

Public officials have pleaded for help from the federal government. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference Tuesday: “We are looking for ventilators desperately.”

Germany and Italy have also been scrambling for ventilators amid manufacturers warning last week that hospitals globally face a shortage of the medical devices.

The World Health Organization said on Friday the coronavirus outbreak in most countries “will get worse before it gets better.”