Transporting patients in the Covid Bag (guest post: Gary Breen MD)

Despite N95’s and protective gear, the entire Life Flight Crew came down with COVID the last time they transported your patient on a ventilator to a higher level of care. Now what?!

The Problem

How are intubated and ventilated Covid-19 patients transported?  As a hospitalist located at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, I have had to intubate and initial mechanical ventilation on a number of patients infected with Covid-19. 

Initially, following the onset of this pandemic, these critically ill patients were being transported via rotor or fixed wing aircraft to our larger UCHealth facilities on the Front Range for optimal care by flight crews donning PPE which included N95 masks, goggles or face shields, gowns and gloves. 

Despite this protective gear, many of the flight crews contracted Covid, which resulted in some emergency transport services becoming grounded until crews could recover.  A better, safer option for transporting these patients was needed.

The ISO-POD

Originally developed to transport patients infected with the Ebola virus, The ISO-POD is negative-pressure patient isolation and transport system which allows us to safely transport critically ill Covid-19 patients, while simultaneously providing protection to our emergency personnel.  The device has a port which allows for ventilator tubing, IV lines, and monitoring lines to pass, as well as 12 gloved iris openings to allow the flight crew staff access to the patient from head to toe. 

Packaging the patient

The patient is placed into the ISO-POD, and the bag is closed and sealed, then sterilized over the exterior surface to allow for transport.  Air movement into and out of the device passes through filters to remove viral pathogens, ensuring that flight crews remain safe during transport, which can only occur in a fixed-wing aircraft. 

Packaging patients up in the ISO-POD is a logistic challenge, often requiring 1-2 hours for crews to safely prepare patients for transfer.  The majority of our transfers from Steamboat are via Classic Air, who maintain three reusable ISO-POD devices, and a flight crew of over 300 people.  The ISO-POD has allowed Classic to transport numerous Covid patients without any crew infections.

Keeping our flight crews safe, and allowing hospitals to fight this thing together

The “Covid bag” has become an invaluable, and all too familiar tool, allowing us to transfer our critical Covid patients to larger UCHealth facilities in order to receive optimal care, while still keeping our flight crews safe.  As a physician caring for these patients, I am incredibly thankful to our dedicated flight crews for job they do, and appreciative of innovative technology such as the ISO-POD.

Gary Breen MD
Physician Informaticist
Hospitalist, Internal Medicine
Yampa Valley Medical Center, UCHealth

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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