Ingenuity Propels Biomed During Pandemic
By Matthew Croker, Communications Specialist PSJH
Walking through the basement workspace, Lance Krone, director, Biomedical Engineering, apologizes for all of the medical equipment stacking up, explaining that “it’s usually much tidier in here.” The decrease in the number of patients with COVID-19 means it is no longer necessary to continually operate many ventilators, infusion pumps and defibrillators. Much of this equipment is now back in the hands of Biomed technicians conducting annual maintenance checks—which may be viewed cautiously as an early sign of a return to normal at St. Jude.
Where IT is responsible for installing, maintaining and repairing medical center telecom, desktop and laptop computers, Wheels-Powered Computer Carts (WOWs) and computer networks, Biomed installs, maintains and repairs the hospital’s advanced healthcare technology for patient care as well as separate computer networks.
“We have technicians who specialize in ventilators, dialysis, imaging, defibrillators, infusion pumps, bedside monitors, you name it,” Lance says. “But we have cross-trained to help support each other. That really paid off during the pandemic as surges created staffing issues. Some technicians had to temporarily cover another’s assigned area. Having technicians trained in multiple modalities helped keep hospital equipment repairs flowing in a timely manner.”
During the pandemic, Biomed added 56 new networked beds on 2M, 40 on 4W, 13 in the Basement CCU and 12 on 3N. “That’s 121 networked beds that never existed before COVID-19,” Lance says. “With our networking experience and strong relationships with vendors, we were able to do what other Biomed departments could not. This gave our hospital breathing room.”
It was actually the ultimate recycling project. Because each area opened for patient care required a new computer network, Biomed saved the time and cost of obtaining new wiring and cabling by using materials not being utilized in other parts of the hospital. Network switches that had been removed from the SWT a couple years ago were also recommissioned.
Because some patients being treated for COVID-19 were too frail to go from their hospital beds to different rooms for dialysis, machines were reprogrammed and new connections to existing drain lines were installed. “Because of the out-of-the-box thinking of Biomed technicians Victor Flores and Jose Jimenez,” Lance says, “the dialysis machine could come to the patient, instead of the patient going to the dialysis machine.”
On top of the hospital’s existing 40 ventilators, Biomed technicians assembled and tested 70 more vents. “Having two factory-trained ventilator technicians on our staff helped tremendously,” Lance says. One is lead technician Robert “Biomed Bob” Spidell, who spent one of his off days loaning out his expertise on a particular ventilator to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.
Technicians Andrew Casillas concedes that work during surges was hard and pressure-filled—and in a first for him, done while wearing an N95 mask and face shield on some floors. But he adds that it was “very rewarding” because he could see that Biomed is part of the multidisciplinary team of caregivers providing quality patient care.
Biomed Office Coordinator Edna Arreola says that working throughout the hospital during the pandemic gave the Biomed team “a deeper understanding and appreciation of the challenges other caregivers were dealing with. It’s amazing how everyone came together. Caregivers did things they don’t normally do.”
Edna cited mailroom caregivers who, on top of their normal duties, transported equipment to Biomed for repairs and maintenance. Jose and Andrew recalled being helped by surgical techs “Nick and Mike,” who distributed cables as the Biomed team hooked up monitors in the OR, and a caregiver from Endoscopy—they did not catch his name—who walked up, asked if they needed help and carried tanks and ventilators alongside them. Technicians Joon Rheeyoin and Lou Delator can share similar stories.
“Everyone helps one another at St. Jude,” Lance says. “There is no ‘that’s not my job.’ I feel very fortunate to be working here.”
Working together is what Biomed is all about. “From the bedside monitor to the network switches, and the computer server in the communication closet, Biomed must make sure they are working together,” Lance says. “I have been very impressed by the team’s ingenuity during the pandemic. It took a lot of coordination with other caregivers. When we needed them most, the Biomed team really came through for the hospital. They remained committed through every challenge they faced.”
“I tell everyone in Biomed that 10 years from now, you are going to be telling your kids and grandkids, ‘I was there in 2020 and 2021. I was helping during the global pandemic,’” observes “Biomed Bob.”
“There is nothing more rewarding,” Edna adds, “than having this kind of job.”
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