The outcomes in 61 patients admitted to a chronic ventilator-dependent unit (CVDU) at Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, during an 18-month period are summarized. This unit was designed for patients who could not be weaned from mechanical ventilators after repeated attempts. Most patients had been ventilator dependent for more than 21 days, but some patients were admitted to the CVDU after briefer periods if special circumstances suggested that weaning from mechanical ventilation would be difficult. The unit was organized to provide a multidisciplinary approach to the general medical and respiratory management of these patients, including a physiologic evaluation of the respiratory system to determine the actual cause of ventilator dependence and complete medical, nursing, and psychosocial assessments to help adopt a plan of care and weaning from the ventilator. Of the numerous causes for ventilator dependence in this study group, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was the most frequent underlying diagnosis. Of the 61 patients admitted to the CVDU, 58 survived, and 53 were liberated from the mechanical ventilator. Ultimately, 35 patients were dismissed directly home from the CVDU. Five of these patients required nocturnal mechanical ventilation. An additional eight patients were dismissed home after rehabilitation. After being weaned from mechanical ventilation, 11 patients were eventually transferred to nursing homes, and 3 additional patients were transferred to a local hospital or physical medicine unit. One patient remains in the CVDU. Thus, the CVDU has successfully liberated patients from ventilator dependence. In addition, because of a decreased need for nursing care, the unit has been cost-effective.
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