Editor's Note: Updated May 1, 2020 with additional information.

BOULDER, Colo. (April 15, 2020)—Ventilators have been in the spotlight during the COVID-19 public health crisis, with most attention focused on manufacturing new ones for hospital use. 

But what about those vents that are already sitting on shelves but aren’t quite ready to be deployed? Jim Worrell, chief commercial officer for Quality Biomedical, says the pandemic has brought the problem of preventative maintenance out of the shadows. 

“What has happened is that the states and the cities go to access their ventilators and they’ve never been used,” Worrell said. “They all have a backup battery if they’re ambulatory, and they also have filters that dry out. They suddenly realize that they haven’t been (through preventative maintenance). That’s why we have thousands going through our process.” 

Quality Biomedical services respiratory and other home medical equipment (HME), with a specialization in ambulatory ventilators such as the LTV-1200, Philips Trilogy, ResMed Astro and Breas Vivo. They work closely with HME dealers and manufacturers as well as with hospitals and other health providers. 

With seven branches around the country and the ability to quickly turn around equipment, the company has found itself providing an essential service during the pandemic—providing maintenance for states, cities and emergency management agencies that find their stockpiles of ventilators need preventative maintenance (PM) before being deployed. Quality Biomedical recently received 100 ventilators from the Florida Department of Health and an additional 42 from Sacramento County, California. Worrell estimates the company is processing about 200 ventilators each day.

In fact, the work has come in so fast that the company is working to increase staffing, 

“We’re hiring technicians as fast as we can,” Worrell said. “We’ve gone from one to three shifts at four of our locations, we’re adding overtime and weekends.” 

That brings its own challenges, as a factory certified technician has to be available for each model of ventilator service. Educating staff accordingly and ensuring they are distributed across shifts has been a focus, Worrell said.

Worrell said non-ventilator demand has also increased during the coronavirus outbreak. Overall, he said, they expect to handle around 10,000 pieces of equipment this month, compared to about 6,000 in a normal month. Some of that is because, with COVID-19-related supply chain issues slowing down production and shipment of new devices like oxygen concentrators, HME providers and others need additional work done on those remaining in service longer. 

“The demand for oxygen concentrators right now is through the roof and all of the manufacturers are significantly backordered right now,” Worrell said. “We’re getting requests like crazy to service the concentrators; the demand for concentrator service and repair has never been higher."

Worrell said the pandemic has brought awareness to the company's Total Equipment Control, or TEC, programin which it stores, services and ships out ventilators and other equipment for providers; it is expanding it to municipalities, states and other government entities. Under the program, the company keeps batteries charged, does regular software updates and fulfills manufacturer requirements.

"Recent events have shown the critical need for patient-ready ventilators to be deployed at a moment's notice," the company's website reads. 

It has also allowed staff and administrators to feel they're doing something important to help the health care system as a whole. 

"We set the tone from the beginning that we need to play an important part, albeit a small part, in the country’s response," Worrell said. "We need to pull out all the stops to help the country and help our customers help their patients.” 

Four tips from Quality Biomedical for making sure your ventilators are ready to deploy in an emergency:

  1. Know what you have. A complete and accurate list of all your respiratory assets needs to be online and available to anyone in your organization who may need it.
  2. Know where it is. Some states have distributed their respiratory assets around the state via emergency medical service companies, hospitals or governmental offices. While the “distributed” strategy allows for rapid deployment in various areas, it also presents issues around “what is where, and what condition is it in?”
  3. Keep it ready. Your ventilators do no good if they are not properly maintained. When medical equipment sits idle, batteries die and filters and o-rings dry out. Make sure it is properly maintained according to manufacturer recommendation and all service records are up-to-date.
  4. Make it easy to retrieve and deploy. Will you have immediate access to your ventilators, even in an unexpected emergency like a tornado or an earthquake? Can you get to it if roads are blocked or power is down? All of these are questions to answer.

Want more? Click here to read how manufacturers are stepping up to answer the call for oxygen equipment and ventilators.