10 Apr Specialist Jon Cartu Announced – New York repair techs want access to ventilator manuals,…
ALBANY – Imagine that a COVID-19 patient is on a ventilator and the machine breaks down. All sorts of questions come to mind: Can it be fixed quickly? Are spare parts available?
Those are questions that advocates of the Right-to-Repair movement are raising as they are asking ventilator manufacturers to make their repair manuals, software updates, schematics and other information public as the need for quick repairs is likely to become more and more critical.
They also believe these releases should be mandated in legislation.
“We know they break,” Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association, said of ventilators.
To be sure Gordon-Byrne isn’t suggesting that ventilators are constantly failing. Like other medical devices, they are designed for reliability. But like any machine, they can have failures after continuous use. And they require upkeep.
“These are high maintenance items. They need a lot of attention,” Gordon-Byrne said.
Hospitals typically have people assigned to run and watch over the machines.
But that may not be enough as more and more ventilators are being built, shipped and pressed into service to keep COVID-19 patients breathing.
Currently, many of the major ventilator makers take a proprietary approach toward the material or guides for repair and maintenance.
And major ventilators makers have repair and maintenance contracts.
But with the unprecedented pressures facing hospitals as well as ventilator companies, there are likely to be personnel gaps.
“Realistically it’s going to happen. Something is going to break and the question is who is going to fix it,” said Gordon-Byrne.
There are people out there, computer repair technicians and other technophiles that could fix ventilators, given the proper instructions and tools.
Technically, hospitals are responsible for the ventilators they use.
Michael Pauley, spokesman for the Healthcare Association of New York State, said the issue of ventilator repair hasn’t come up with the group’s membership so far.
But there have been behind-the-scenes talks with officials as well as lobbyists about how to keep the machines running smoothly.
From this standpoint, ventilators are the latest item to be included in the Right-to-Repair movement, which has been working to gain traction for several years.
There’s been a Right-to-Repair bill in the legislature for a few years, sponsored by Albany Democratic Sen. Neil Breslin and Democratic Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo. But lobbyists for major manufacturers have held it at bay.
Much of the Right-to-Repair movement dates back a decade or so when independent auto repair shops organized in some states against the high costs they said the Big Three and other automakers were charging for technical updates and other materials needed to fix increasingly complex vehicles that were loaded with computer chips.
The same thing was happening with major computer makers who would only sanction authorized dealers to work on their machines. The issue has gained steam with cell phones and the constant tug-o-war between businesses like mall kiosk repair shops and authorized dealers.
Computer makers and automakers see maintenance and repair as profit centers since they sell original parts. Independent shops may use different, less expensive parts and many charge less than dealers.
This has even been an issue in the farming community with complaints that tractor makers such as John Deere are charging increasingly high prices for their authorized updates and repair instructions.
Manufacturers continue to push back against the Right-to-Repair movement.
The Advanced Medical Technology Association, or AdvaMed, has sent letters to federal lawmakers raising concerns about faulty repairs or defective replacement parts if unauthorized work is done on medical equipment.
And, according to Vice News, the German-based Drager ventilator manufacturer recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Tanzanian-based website known as Frank’s Hospital Workshop that lists a number of ventilator and other repair manuals on-line. Spare parts and repairs for medical equipment is a persistent problem in Third World locations.
And in January, General Electric wrote to New Hampshire lawmakers arguing against having their medical devices included in a proposed Right-to-Repair bill. Most of the opposition has centered on the argument that having an unauthorized person work on medical devices could pose safety and health hazards.
Some companies have released their manuals,…