VentilatorProject.Org, R.I. Commerce Corp., URI mount effort to collect sleep apnea machines for pandemic fight

Rhode Islanders can drop off CPAP/BiPAP machines no longer in use to fire departments across state

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862 |
TEAM MEMBERS
TEAM MEMBERS: From left, Peter Snyder, vice president for research and economic development at URI; Tao Wei, URI associate professor of electrical, computer and biomedical engineering; Dana Lesperance, director at Absolute Respiratory Care; Alex Hornstein, leader of the VentilatorProject.Org, and Air Force Col. Erik Brine, executive director at National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology. URI photo by Steer.

KINGSTON, R.I. — April 14, 2020 — VentilatorProject.Org has joined the Rhode Island Commerce Corp., the University of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Department of Health, fire stations and other hospital and industry partners across the state to collect and refurbish sleep apnea machines to serve as supplementary equipment to hospitals that are treating patients affected by COVID-19.

As states struggle with limited supplies of ventilators for patients in intensive care units as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the partners came together quickly to support and assist Gov. Gina Raimondo’s efforts to provide additional respiratory equipment that could be used by hospitals to address this respiratory crisis.

The newly formed VentilatorProject.Org, led by Alex Hornstein in Providence, is made up of a committed group of volunteers, including engineers, designers, technologists and doctors. VentilatorProject.Org has been coordinating with doctors around the world to collect, vet and document innovative uses of these machines in hospitals as they treat COVID-19 patients without exposing health care workers to aerosolized virus.

Tao Wei
UNDER EXAMINATION: Tao Wei, associate professor of electrical, computer and biomedical engineering, examines a CPAP machine, as the Ballroom and Gallery of URI’s Memorial union are transformed into space to reconfigure CPAP and BiPAP machines for COVID-19 patients. Wei is overseeing the operation at the union. URI photo by Steer.

“Since we started in mid-March, our team has grown to 60 volunteers who have been working around the clock to understand the needs of doctors and hospitals, researching and testing technology as it becomes available, designing this donation drive, and coordinating with medical professionals and innovative public servants.  It’s amazing how friends, neighbors and talented strangers around the world have quickly come together to rise to this great challenge that faces us all. Our tight-knit community in the nation’s smallest state has been a great asset, allowing us to quickly and effectively reach and work with key COVID-19 responders across our state,” Hornstein said.

According to industry statistics, VentilatorProject.Org models that of the 8.5 million sleep apnea machines in homes in America, 2.9 million of those CPAPs and BiPAP machines are not in use. These extra machines could be donated by willing owners, refurbished and brought to hospitals to help provide additional respiratory equipment and give doctors the flexibility to free up time on the hospital ventilators.  The team estimates that 9,000 such machines are available in Rhode Island.

The big question being asked of Rhode Islanders by the Community CPAP/BiPAP drive is, “Do you have an extra CPAP/BiPAP machine in your home to help our hospitals during this crisis?” State residents can donate new or used units to support hospitals as they work with patients affected by COVID-19.

Memorial Union. URI photo by Steer.

Here are the key steps in the process that begins this week:

  1. Drop off your machine at collection centers at fire departments across the state.   Please do not donate your machine if you are currently using it or if it is still owned by your insurance company.
  2. Your machine will be brought to a processing center at the University of Rhode Island, where technical volunteers from across the University will work to sanitize, test, document and refurbish the machines under the oversight of Tao Wei, URI associate professor of electrical engineering.
  3. Refurbished machines will be distributed to hospitals and health care facilities in Rhode Island as needed, and then to other places in need.

There is significant precedent to hospitals incorporating these home-use machines in this crisis.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued guidance to help facilitate their use in hospitals, and doctors at  The Mount Sinai Hospital and Northwell Health in New York both issued recent protocols for using home-use BiPAP-ST machines in a hospital setting to treat COVID-19 patients.

Rhode Island Commerce is grateful to be collaborating with everybody who is contributing to the Community CPAP/BiPAP Donation Drive, including VentilatorProject.Org, which has swiftly and creatively responded to this pandemic,” said Pete Rumsey, member of the Ventilator Task Force within the state’s COVID-19 Working Group, who also serves the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation as director of the Rhode Island Innovation Campus Initiative. “Please donate your extra machine and let’s work together to help our community breathe,” adds Rumsey.

URI President David M. Dooley said URI’s role in such a vital project is consistent with its founding in 1892 as a Land Grant institution.  “Our participation in this extraordinary venture exemplifies the central mission of the University–to be of service to Rhode Island and its citizens and to bring our expertise and ingenuity to our community and the world,” Dooley said.

“We are honored to be working with some of the best and most creative minds in Rhode Island and the selfless men and women of the fire service to take on one of the biggest challenges of our time. I am confident that we will be successful in this effort to help save the lives of our neighbors here and around the world.”

Peter Snyder, vice president for research and economic development, said the University’s Division of Research and Economic Development and URI Ventures are playing a key role in the effort.

“I am proud of the effort being made by units and departments across the University to support this important initiative,” Snyder said. “Our world-class research and technical skills will be essential components of this statewide collaboration that has been organized to help the state during this crisis. I am grateful for the outstanding support from URI’s Division of Student Affairs and other campus units.”

Those intending to donate their machines should:

  • Remove any parts that have been in contact with a person (masks, hoses).
  • Discard any water remaining in your unit’s humidifier.
  • Wash your hands and wipe down all surfaces with an unscented disinfecting spray or wipe.
  • Place the machine in an unscented garbage bag and tie it closed.
  • Wash your hands again, and write the machine’s information (machine type, make, model) on a piece of paper and tape it to the bag.
  • Drop off your bag at one of the designated fire stations, making sure to maintain 6 feet between you and other individuals and follow proper hand-washing procedures before, during and after delivery.
    Go to ventilatorproject.org/donate-now to find your closest drop-off point
  • Do not bring your machine to a collection site if you or someone in your home has been sick in the last 14 days.
  • Only donate machines that you own, not ones that are leased by your insurer.

It is important to note that these machines should not be used at-home to treat COVID-19 — it is imperative that patients with COVID-19 who need respiratory support be in a hospital. When the donated machines arrive at URI, the team refurbishes and documents the machines to be used safely in a hospital setting and under the guidance of a medical professional.