As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on around the country with the Delta variant wreaking havoc, hospitals in Tennessee are grappling with a shortage of staff and ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machines. ECMOs help oxygenate the blood, and are a last resort treatment for the most severe cases of COVID.

But they’ve become hard to come by during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic. High hospital intake has caused machine shortages, but staffing problems have exacerbated the problem, meaning even if they have the machines or beds for patients, sometimes they simply cannot find someone qualified to deliver the treatment.

The treatment requires different levels of training, and the qualifications patients need to meet to receive the treatment have changed since the pandemic began.

“If you were to ask me two years ago what our criteria for putting someone on ECMO, it would be very different than what it is today,” said Dr. Matthew Bacchetta, the adult ECMO program co-director at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “And it’s simply because we’re in a pandemic, we’re short of staff, and we’re in a triage situation.”

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