Currently one for each of Little Current and Mindemoya sites

MANITOULIN – An Island-wide fundraising push started by M’Chigeeng First Nation to provide more ventilator capacity at Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC) has already raised enough in donations to cover the cost of two units and the organizers say they hope two more can be purchased to bring Manitoulin’s unit total to six.

“We want to ensure that we support our local hospitals and staff to be able to provide the best medical treatment as possible,” stated M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige in a March 18 letter sent to Island municipalities, First Nations, organizations and businesses. 

MHC board member Derek Debassige, who runs Manitoulin Physio, was trying to find ways to support the hospital during this challenging time. He partnered with Ogimaa-kwe Debassige and M’Chigeeng health services manager Roger Beaudin, and their group consulted MHC VP of clinical services and chief nursing officer Paula Fields as to the best way to support Island hospitals.

“In keeping with the Manitoulin Collaborative and wanting to ensure Manitoulin’s communities are safe and remain as healthy as possible, they volunteered to do this. (Ogimaa-kwe Debassige) took it upon herself to put together this letter and submitted it to chiefs, businesses and municipalities and they have kindly kicked it off with a very generous gift,” said MHC president and CEO Lynn Foster.

This campaign was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although most people will get mild symptoms of the coronavirus, this disease can cause extreme breathing difficulties in those who contract it. Complications are more likely in patients who come from vulnerable populations such as elders and those with pre-existing health issues.

Ventilators are essentially artificial breathing machines for people whose lungs are not fully functional. They blow air into the lungs via a tube which is normally inserted into the mouth or nose.

These machines have adjustable settings for the amount of airflow as well as the proportion of oxygen in each assisted breath. 

MHC presently has two ventilators, one each at its Little Current and Mindemoya hospital sites. However, these are portable ventilators, meant to provide interim breathing support to stabilize patients as they prepare to be transferred to Health Sciences North in Sudbury. The potential four additional units would mean each site could keep two units and a portable ventilator on hand for the possibility of treating six patients with breathing difficulties at once. This includes COVID-19 patients and those with other health concerns.

Each ventilator is expected to cost $20,000, so this fundraising campaign is seeking a total of $80,000. Any surpluses will be used for general hospital support during the COVID-19 outbreak.

M’Chigeeng First Nation began the campaign with a $10,000 pledge, which was quickly matched by the Little Current Lions Club. Donations of equal value soon followed from Sheshegwaning First Nation and the Municipality of Central Manitoulin.

“We know we will all be affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus in some way, shape or form. We also know that ventilators can help save lives. We hope and encourage everyone to contribute as we are all in this together,” said Ogimaa-kwe Debassige.

The process of purchasing ventilators might not be simple even though considerable fundraising has already been conducted on the Island. As countries around the world battle COVID-19, Canada is far from the only country that is experiencing increased demand for these technical pieces of equipment.

Mass orders to countries like Italy, Germany and the United States have placed ventilator manufacturers into strong backlog positions and they are struggling to fulfill all the orders.

Several Canadian businesses have offered to help manufacture ventilator components and other needed supplies during the COVID-19 outbreak but these are highly technical machines. Factories would need to retool to make the parts and a considerable amount of expertise would need to be learned in a short period of time. Whether or not businesses will be able to meet demand remains unknown at this time, though Ms. Foster was confident that MHC would be able to purchase the machines when the fundraising campaign brought in enough dollars.

Of note, there have been reports of Ontario plastic surgeons and dentists who have offered their ventilators for use in COVID-19 treatment.

In Ontario, hospitals could run out of ventilator capacity in as little as 15 days under a worst-case scenario, according to a joint study between the University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Hospital and the University Health Network. This study, however, is a preliminary model and the health care system’s capacity could differ widely from this analysis.

When COVID-19 patients end up in hospitals for care, such as on a ventilator, they can be expected to spend two to three weeks there. As a result, the ventilators will already be full by the time the new cases emerge.

That study cited Ontario’s current ventilator capacity as being 1,311 units. There are 2,053 intensive care unit beds in the province. However, many of those are already in use by other patients. The study estimates that 25 percent of ICU beds and ventilators will be available for COVID-19 patients, which is just 513 beds and 328 ventilators. 

Grassroots efforts to get ventilators into production have been circulating around the Internet. Hackaday, an online publication that allows people to discuss their DIY projects and share expertise, has become a discussion hub for people seeking alternative ventilator setups. These would not replace proper ventilator units but are intended to be an unlicenced, last-resort stopgap if hospital capacity is full and desperate families seek a “something rather than nothing” solution.

A doctor in eastern Ontario managed to successfully follow an online video from Detroit doctors circa 2006 that showed how to hook two people up to the same ventilator in a crisis situation.

That system isn’t perfect—both patients have to be of similar lung function according to The Canadian Press, and if one patient’s health changes at a different rate as the other then the system will not be effective.

Ms. Foster thanked M’Chigeeng First Nation and Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige for their efforts in organizing this campaign.

Anyone who wishes to donate to the MHC ventilator campaign should contact Lori Mastelko at MHC by calling 705-368-2300, extension 2508, or by emailing Payments can be made by credit card over the phone by calling the admitting office, cheque by mail or in-person to the screening desk at the front door before 3 pm, or by going online to the Canada Helps website and searching for MHC Ventilator Campaign.

As of press time Monday, in addition to the $40,000 in donations as mentioned above, there was $7,000 in donations listed on the Canada Helps website.