DENVER — Frontline workers are drained and the resources they've been using to fight COVID-19, like oxygen, don't look much better. But it's not only Coloradans with coronavirus, feeling the effects.
"There is no way that little oxygen is going to last me that long,” said Moreen Ryan, pointing to her aluminum oxygen cylinders in the corner of her apartment.
Ryan has been living with emphysema since 2005. Her condition has progressed to the point where she relies on six liters of oxygen per minute. Her oxygen tanks have provided her with the necessary airflow while allowing her to remain active.
"I'm not a homebound person. I need to get out that door and do things," she said.
During her last oxygen tank delivery in early November, she was told she'd have to wait 12 weeks for another shipment.
"She said it's a shortage," Ryan said.
This fall, oxygen shortages burdened hospitals in the South that were at or near capacity with COVID-19 patients.
In Colorado, state public health leaders prepared contingency plans in November should the state's COVID-19 situation worsen and health care resources need to be rationed.
One of the state's plans reads, "Subsequent COVID-19 surges have highlighted limited capacity in emergency departments, general hospital beds, different types of dialysis, medications, oxygen delivery systems other than ventilators, etc."
Denver7 contacted several hospital systems that reported optimal oxygen supply for patients in their care. However, one at-home supplier based north of Denver, who asked for anonymity, said oxygen tanks are indeed in short supply across the state.
Ryan's at-home oxygen is provided by a locally-owned supplier, and she fears her current supply won't last until the next shipment scheduled for late January.
For now, she plans to spend more time at home where she relies on her oxygen concentrator, and ration the tanks she has left.
"I don't want to sit in my apartment and die," Ryan said.
On Monday, Dec. 20, Ryan received a delivery of 8 oxygen tanks.
Denver Health, who contracts with a locally owned oxygen supplier to provide Ryan's oxygen, provided the below statement to Denver7 about the shortage.
“Our number one priority is always for the safety and well-being of our members. At this time, there is a national supply challenge which is affecting health care providers and suppliers across the country. We are working with each of our members to ensure their medical needs are met and they are equipped with adequate supplies of resources, such as oxygen. Sometimes this means getting a different type of oxygen or adjusting the way oxygen is delivered or received. Changes to the protocols in which members are used to getting supplies may be frustrating, but it is important to understand that some of these changes are necessary to meet the medical needs of each patient. The most impacted form is portable oxygen which allows people to leave their homes more reliably. We are hopeful the supply chain challenges will be resolved soon." said Dr. Christine Seals, Medical Director for Denver Health Medical Plan.