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PHC4 Releases Research Brief on the use of Mechanical Ventilation in Pennsylvania Hospitals Pre-COVID-19—Important Baseline Information in Understanding COVID-19 Hospitalizations

Harrisburg, PA – August 12, 2020 – According to a research brief released today by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4), there were 46,257 hospitalizations involving mechanical ventilation in fiscal year (FY) 2019 (July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the important role mechanical ventilators play in the management of severe respiratory illness,” said Joe Martin, PHC4’s Executive Director. “Looking at this data now provides a good baseline for future reporting of COVID-19 hospitalizations at both statewide and county levels,” added Martin.

Hospitalizations involving mechanical ventilation occur most often for adult patients with critical illnesses such as acute respiratory failure, sepsis and severe pneumonia. For patients under age 18, mechanical ventilation is used most often to treat premature or low birth weight newborns.

About 24% of the adult patients on mechanical ventilation had a diagnosis of infectious pneumonia. Future analysis comparing the rates of mechanical ventilator use for patients with infectious pneumonia versus those with COVID-19 related pneumonia will provide insight into the severity of illness associated with each type of pneumonia. Almost 74% of the adult patients on mechanical ventilation had more than one serious underlying condition—information that will be important in future COVID-19 analysis as patients with these conditions are thought to be at greater risk of developing a more severe case of COVID-19 related pneumonia.

In general, population-based data showed higher hospitalization rates involving mechanical ventilation among older residents, black (non-Hispanic) residents, residents living in higher poverty areas and male residents. These characteristics are similar to those believed to be at higher risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19.

Patients needing mechanical ventilation had, in general, higher mortality rates, stayed in the hospital longer, and were more likely to be discharged to other acute care facilities:

  • The in-hospital mortality rate for patients on mechanical ventilation was 25.9% compared to the rate of 1.1% for all other patients.
  • Patients on mechanical ventilation stayed in the hospital an average of 12.6 days compared to an average of 4.6 days for all other patients.
  • 34.1% of patients on mechanical ventilation were transferred to skilled nursing, rehab, long-term care, or other acute care facilities after discharge from the hospital compared to 16.7% for all other patients.

County-level population-based rates are also included in the brief.

The brief is available on PHC4’s website at You can also link to it through social media on Facebook and Twitter.

PHC4 is an independent state agency charged with collecting, analyzing and reporting information that can be used to improve the quality and restrain the cost of health care in Pennsylvania.

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