Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther Muña recognizes the need for a hyperbaric chamber to treat a common but lethal diving condition, while also weighing the possible implications of procuring equipment that size.
Muña noted in an interview last week that procuring a hyperbaric chamber to treat decompression sickness—also known in the medical world as Caisson disease or “the bends”—is considered a need rather than a want.
Decompression sickness occurs in scuba divers when they surface too quickly after a deep dive, causing pressurized gases to form in tissues and the bloodstream, potentially killing by congestion of the lung and circulatory shock.
Muña noted that considering how attractive the CNMI is for divers, making the equipment necessary, the actual procurement of the chamber poses a challenge due to its size.
“We know there is a need, but we need to find a location for it,” she said. She added that if she had to, she would place the chamber across the street of the Commonwealth Health Center and it would be included in their expansion proposal. She noted that it was still currently in discussion.
“…Ultimately, it’s all about patient safety,” she said. “We want to make sure patient safety is secured. Right now, in a building that is over 30 years old and being the only hospital, it is something we really have to be extra careful that equipment such as the hyperbaric chamber that has oxygen pressure, is safe.”
The hyperbaric chamber treats the bends in divers or aviators by reintroducing the body to increased pressures, allowing the gas pockets formed in the bloodstream and in tissue to dissolve in the bloodstream.
Soon after procuring $1.8 million in brand new hospital equipment, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said that outfitting the hospital with a hyperbaric chamber is also being looked at.
Torres and other members of the 20th CNMI Legislature were included in a tour of the hospital to see some of the new equipment and software.
Torres noted in a previous interview that about $4 million would be used to procure the hyperbaric chamber, including other hospital equipment.