Hagerstown Rabbi Helps Secure Ventilators

From left: Rabbi Ari Plost with his father. Courtesy of Rabbi Ari Plost.

Rabbi Ari Plost, of Congregation B’nai Abraham in Hagerstown, watched his father survive on a ventilator. A week after his father recovered, Plost decided his rural community needed more resources, and that he was going to be the one to do something about it.

“I can’t imagine someone who needs a ventilator and not being able to get one,” said Plost, past president of the Hagerstown Area Religious Council.

“A month ago, I heard on the news that there is a critical shortage of these lifesaving machines. We are a rather small Jewish community of Hagerstown, in a rural area.”

Plost started to do some research on the machines. He found that one type of ventilator, percussive ventilators, break down lung secretions in COVID-19 patients.

These ventilators are made by Percussionaire, a company founded by biomedical engineer Forrest Bird. Plost learned about Bird, who developed the first mass-produced ventilator. He researched the ventilators more, spoke with past and present Army surgeons, and sought out a suitable manufacturer.

Plost spoke with Yaakov Weissmann, chief of staff of the Maryland Office of the Senate President; state Sen. Andy Serafini (R-District 2); and senior advisers to Gov. Larry Hogan to find out how to acquire these ventilators. He made sure that 20 were sent to his local hospital as soon as possible, and then hundreds more to the entire state.

“It is my understanding that Rabbi Plost connected our procurement teams to a vendor for the purchase of ventilators,” said Shareese N. DeLeaver Churchill, press secretary to the governor’s office. “Given the need for ventilators across the nation, the administration is grateful for the assistance.”

Lew Metzner, Hagerstown city councilmember and past president of B’nai Abraham, said Plost was relentless. They shared contacts and suggestions, but Metzner said Plost was primarily responsible for obtaining the ventilators.

“My role was telling him when enough was enough, and also telling him to go for it,” Metzner said.

The first 20 arrived at Meritus Health in Hagerstown this week, while another 250 will go to the Maryland Department of Health, to be distributed throughout the month. The first were paid by the hospital, with the second group paid for by Maryland.

A new order will bring the total to 470 ventilators.

Plost “was fantastic in getting the right people involved for this to move forward, great at getting higher-ups to step in and finish this,” said Michael Mendez, a respiratory therapist who works for Sovereign Medical, Inc., a medical sales and distribution company, who is training the hospital staff how to use the ventilators. “If it wasn’t for him, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Mendez noted that for a small town like Hagerstown, the number of ventilators they acquired was valuable.

Mendez has faith in these ventilators because unlike others, they remove secretions while keeping the amount of pressure on the lung on a lower setting, which prevents lung trauma. “I love these devices and I know their outcome,” he said, noting that high frequency ventilation has been around for 30 years.

“Our most frequently recited and solemn prayer in Judaism is the Shema for a reason,” Plost said. “The Shema is a prayer about listening, and we pray the Shema because listening can be hard. In the face of this threat that would rob us of our very breath, it’s incredible that all these people are coming together in a crisis to listen to one another and help one another. Ultimately, the decision to buy these ventilators was based on what clinicians and others thought would be helpful. But the reason that I was heard was because of, and not in spite of, my serving the Jewish people.”

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