IN THE FIELD: Soldiers gained hands-on experience during field validation exercises with the Hamilton T1 ventilator at the 10th Field Hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado, in 2018. (Photo courtesy of USAMMDA)
The WDMS PMO takes action to help those afflicted with COVID-19
by Dr. Tyler N. Bennett and David E. Wirtz Jr.
In early 2020, we learned that the potentially fatal coronavirus was quickly spreading from person to person, country to country and continent to continent. We were instructed to wear masks and stay at home for our safety and to help stop the spread of the virus. As the medical world began to assess the situation and look for answers, patients were quickly filling hospitals and clinics, with no end in sight. Necessary medical equipment was becoming scarce, and Army medical professionals immediately stepped up to help find solutions to the problems. Historically, in both war and peacetime, Army Medical Command has helped to provide immediate medical care and resources for both military and civilian patients worldwide.
Called upon to use its expertise and resources to supply ventilators to treat patients afflicted by COVID-19, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) looked to one of its subordinate commands, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity (USAMMDA), to assist in this effort. USAMMDA asked its Warfighter Deployed Medical Systems Project Management Office (WDMS PMO) team to step in and help because of our expertise in the field regarding the products we manage on a daily basis for the Army.
As the medical equipping office of the Army, our Warfighter Deployed Medical Systems Project team was instrumental in rapidly deploying these much needed ventilators, as well as infusion pumps, ultrasonic cleaners, intensive care unit sets, blood-gas analyzers, suction apparatuses, steam sterilizers and other medical supplies with very little lead time.
Aligned under the Army Futures Command, USAMMDA manages both medical product development and the modernization and sustainment of these critical products. The organization houses five project management offices, as well as its Force Health Protection Division, all of which support the mission to develop and deliver quality medical capabilities to protect, treat and sustain the health of our service members. The WDMS PMO is tasked with the procurement, fielding, sustainment and modernization of the medical sets and equipment fielded to U.S. Army personnel throughout the world. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WDMS team has risen to the challenge of supporting our nation’s civilian population as well.
A UNIQUE SKILL SET
As we now know, COVID-19 typically affects the human respiratory system, and may cause hypoxemia, or below-normal levels of oxygen in the blood. Therefore, early in the pandemic, many health care providers recommended the use of medical ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients in severe respiratory distress. However, since we were experiencing historic numbers of patients requiring ventilators, these units were just not available for everyone at that time.
During the onset of COVID-19, the federal government recognized there were not enough ventilators in the U.S. strategic national stockpile to address the rapidly growing requirement. To meet the needs of the civilian medical community, the government developed a mandate that the Army be prepared to provide ventilators upon order. The WDMS team’s vast experience in the rapid deployment of medical products and devices, and its expertise in ensuring these items meet or exceed the needs of users made it the ideal candidate to help.
In the early stages of the pandemic, Army hospital centers, the 531st Hospital Center from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and the 9th Hospital Center from Fort Hood, Texas, deployed to the Javits Center in New York. Meanwhile, the 627th Hospital Center from Fort Carson, Colorado, deployed to CenturyLink Field in Seattle to aid the local community hospitals in meeting patient capacity. The Javits Center treated more than 400 patients from the civilian population with various medical needs, including those testing positive for COVID-19. In support of this effort, we quickly provided much-needed ventilators to these locations, to aid in the treatment of patients with more severe symptoms of the disease, helping to save as many lives as possible.
Ventilators have a long and storied history of aiding in the care and survival of Soldiers on the battlefield, used largely in Army-deployed hospital centers and air ambulances. Ventilators help keep critically wounded service members alive until they can be transported to a higher echelon of care. However, the legacy ventilators were more than 15 years old and badly in need of replacement. As part of WDMS PMO’s responsibilities, we manage the replacement and modernization of obsolete commercial off-the-shelf and legacy medical devices to ensure up-to-date, safe and effective patient care. These medical devices must endure and successfully pass rigorous testing to ensure the use and effectiveness of the device not only in well-maintained, climate-controlled hospitals, but also in the most hostile, austere and weather-driven climates. Our team recently tested the Army-fielded Hamilton T1 ventilator in environments similar to that of deployed service members and—against legacy and new ventilators currently on the market—found these units to be superior to other available products. We were able to secure the necessary funding to test, down-select and field the Hamilton T1.
We found that ventilator to be the easiest to maintain in austere environments, ensuring the Army’s fleet of ventilators will be continuously ready for use anywhere around the globe. Its features include its ability to be completely independent of compressed air, reducing weight and saving space, since it does not require a gas cylinder or a compressor. This is most important when transporting patients via ambulance to a hospital center, or from one facility to another. The Hamilton T1 also allows medical providers to adjust the oxygen concentration from 21 percent to 100 percent, depending on the needs of the patient. During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, these ventilators proved to be extremely useful and necessary in many instances, and we were able to help deploy the units to those facilities in need.
ABOVE AND BEYOND
In an attempt to get ahead of the Army’s mandate to provide ventilators upon order, personnel from USAMMDA’s Force Sustainment Directorate traveled with a medical logistics support team to Sierra Army Depot in Herlong, California, to prepare nearly 300 Hamilton T1 ventilators for transfer to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Within hours, seven personnel were on a plane flying to Sierra, and once there, they quickly pulled and secured ventilators on pallets for transport. Once the units were prepared for deployment and immediate use, they were staged on the airfield to be sent out when needed.
In addition to preparing existing ventilators at Sierra Army Depot, one of the authors of this article, Dr. Tyler N. Bennett, was selected to form a team in support of FEMA and the nationwide ventilator response. During his six-week assignment, Bennett was responsible for tracking the day-to-day production of ventilators under contract with 10 different commercial vendors across the country. As part of USAMMDA’s overarching effort to ensure the fulfillment of critical medical products and devices, the WDMS PMO team’s research and analyses supported the national stockpile of ventilators. Based on the usage rates that the team recognized early during the crisis in New York City, per our discussions with clinical staff at New York City area hospitals, we calculated what we believed to be the minimum number of ventilators required to meet the mission.
Although we continue to battle COVID-19, the next crisis may occur at any time or any place, and Army Medicine, USAMMDA and the WDMS PMO will stand ready and be prepared to help with whatever may be needed. Our team is truly proud of our numerous efforts in support of the nationwide response to the pandemic, and we look to use our experience to help withstand any medical emergencies—whether national or global—that may arise in the future.
For more information on the WDMS PMO and other products being developed and maintained by the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, go to the USAMMDA website at https://www.usammda.army.mil/.
TYLER N. BENNETT is the project manager of the WDMS PMO at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, and is responsible for the development, delivery and sustainment of deployable medical capabilities for the warfighter. He holds a Ph.D. and an M.S. in chemistry from Georgetown University, an M.B.A. from the University of Maryland and a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Portland in Oregon. Dr. Bennett is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps (AAC) and holds Level III certifications in program management and in science and technology management.
DAVID E. WIRTZ JR. is the deputy product manager for the Medical Devices Assemblage Management program management office within the WDMS PMO at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity. He is responsible for the delivery and sustainment of deployable medical capabilities for the warfighter. He holds a B.S. in business administration from Post University. He is a member of the AAC and holds Level II certifications in program management and life cycle logistics.