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CoPIRG and the national federation of state PIRGs have been pressuring ventilator manufacturers to remove restrictions on who can fix these life-saving devices. Our efforts, along with those of our allies at Repair.org, got a boost last week, when Colorado Treasurer Dave Young and state treasurers from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois, and Rhode Island sent a letter to manufacturers calling for them to release proprietary repair manuals, service keys, schematics and repair software.
Their letter points out that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has meant that it is difficult, untimely or even impossible for manufacturer-authorized technicians to service ventilators, so manufacturers must work to empower technicians already in the hospitals. In response, some manufacturers are loosening restrictions on repair information.
"Our hospitals are working hard to keep every existing ventilator in service," said Colorado Treasurer Dave Young. "Anything to expedite the ability to repair current ventilators is critical to saving lives, in Colorado and across the country.
The U.S healthcare system lacks an adequate number of working ventilators to effectively treat the expected influx of COVID-19 patients. As hospitals put reserve ventilators into service, and continuously use their existing ventilators, repair and maintenance issues are life and death issues. However, many manufacturers do not provide access to repair documentation, limiting who can fix the equipment. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, for third-party medical repair companies or in-house medical engineers from trying to fix things.
“Some hospitals wait weeks for the manufacturer to repair their ventilators. When someone can go from being fine to needing a ventilator in days, a two week waiting period is unacceptable, especially when there are trained technicians already on-site and ready to repair them if they have the information,” said Allison Conwell, CoPIRG's Right to Repair campaign organizer. "I applaud Treasurer Young and the other state treasurers for adding their voices.”
Earlier this month, U.S. PIRG delivered 43,000-plus signatures supporting the right to repair to 25 different ventilator manufacturers.
Some manufacturers are making socially responsible changes to their repair policies as a result of the pandemic. For example, Medtronic has gone a step beyond releasing its manuals, providing access to certain part design files. However, so many companies have increased their repair restrictions in recent years, that the repair ecosystem is fragile in this time of crisis.
"While some manufacturers are stepping up and letting us get repair information, others are not. We need this information on the ground to save lives in Colorado when the peak hits," said Leticia Reynolds, President of the Colorado Association of Biomedical Equipment Technicians.
The American Hospital Association estimates 960,000 people will need ventilators over the course of the pandemic. With approximately 170,000 ventilators in the country -- some of which need repair to become operational -- the shortage of ventilators requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. CoPIRG is also calling on the Trump administration to double the ventilator supply, and invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up manufacturing.
Meanwhile, iFixit, a leading online provider for service information for all kinds of products, is organizing ventilator service information so that technicians can quickly find the information they need.
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