Help from an unexpected source

Courtesy photoJennifer Jackson-Stevens, respiratory care program coordinator at Northern Essex Community College, and Don Bellerive, clinical coordinator, show respiratory care equipment which the college loaned to local hospitals.

As doctors struggle for enough equipment to serve coronavirus victims, local hospitals are getting help from an unlikely source.

It was an ironic development: Because the virus forced medical classes at Northern Essex Community College to halt, respirators used in those classes became available. The college decided to loan the respirators to three local hospitals — Holy Family Hospital, Lawrence General Hospital and Lowell General Hospital.

Instead of medical students using the respirators to practice on, doctors and nurses are able to use the machines to treat coronavirus patients.

Respirators are a valuable commodity in the fight against the virus. Hospitals in several states have run short of the life-saving machines.

NECC stepped into action when respiratory department directors at local hospitals reached out to the college. They asked that the NECC program loan the ventilators to hospitals while the college was using remote learning, which left the equipment sitting idle.

Three NECC staff members — Jennifer Jackson-Stevens, NECC’s respiratory care program director; Don Bellerive, program clinical coordinator; and Erin Colstad, simulation center coordinator — prepared the ventilators to go to the hospitals. The college sent eight of the devices.

"Many COVID-19 patients are requiring the assistance of mechanical ventilators when they are in the acute phase of the respiratory disease to help them breathe,” said Jackson-Stevens. "These mechanical ventilators at the previously mentioned hospitals will be operated by many of NECC’s respiratory care program’s alumni who have earned their associate degree in science in respiratory care at NECC."

Northern Essex offers an associate of science degree in respiratory care. For information on this program visit or contact Jackson-Stevens at

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