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Medical Gas Systems Under Duress I

The Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted our lives, our institutions, and especially our hospitals. Hospital staff and systems have been taxed past what we could ever have imagined. With the demand of vastly increased populations of critically ill patients, hospitals are finding that their vital medical gas systems have been pushed to their limits.

The newest surge of Covid-19 is creating an emerging crisis in many hospitals that were beginning to see a downward trend in cases. With this in mind, it’s paramount that facilities evaluate potential risks to their medical gas systems up to and including asset failure.

In his article, “The Effect of COVID-19 On Medical Gas Systems Today,” Tim Richards, Technical Director at CHT Healthcare, shares the following risks and remedies relating to the burdens being placed on medical gas systems today.

Increased Demand on Oxygen Delivery Systems

It’s clear our oxygen delivery systems have been affected by the increased need for ventilators as well as the increased length of time patients require them. Some facilities have discovered that increasing the entire system’s pressure by adjusting their final line regulators helps mitigate potential pressure drops.

When increasing system pressure, it is important to remember to stay within the NFPA 99 limits of 50-55 psi. In addition, be certain to adjust all area and master alarm high and low-pressure set points to stay ±20 psi of the operating pressure. As always, documentation of all changes is vital to reset alarm adjustments when returning the system to its normal operating pressure.

Most facilities have not had any issues with the supplied volume of liquid oxygen. However, the vaporizers have proved to be a potential weak link in bulk cryogenic liquid supply systems. If the increased flow of oxygen to the facility exceeds the designed limits of the vaporizer, there is a serious risk of excessive icing on the vaporizers. This results in failures of controls downstream since the liquid has been unable to convert to a gaseous state. According to Tim Richards, the following remedies are available to combat excessive icing in times of increased demand.

Potential Short-term Remedies

  • Most vaporizers require the movement of ambient air around the fins to convert the liquid oxygen to gas. Placing fans around the vaporizer will increase necessary airflow
  • If alternating type systems have been installed, it’s important to ensure proper timing.
  • Back feeding individual zones
  • Supplying additional capacity of oxygen through the emergency oxygen supply connection (EOSC)

Potential Long-term Remedy

It may be worth assessing the installation of electric or steam vaporizer systems as a more permanent solution. Increased Demand on Medical Air Systems With increased demand and usage, systems may require upgrading as well as more frequent preventive maintenance. Possible areas of improvement include increasing capacity through additional compressors or interconnecting with other medical air systems in the facility if available.

Tim Richards, Technical Director
Compliant Healthcare Technologies, LLC

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