Ventilator-Assisted Living©

Spring 2005, Vol. 19, No. 1


Extra Security During Emergencies

Louie Boitano, MS, RRT, Northwest Assistive Breathing Center, Pulmonary Clinic, University of Washington, Seattle

For people with neuromuscular weakness who rely on continuous ventilator support, a power failure or ventilator equipment failure can be a potential life-threatening event. Many ventilator users have little or no ability to call for help in the event of an emergency. Dependence upon ventilation support and lack of control in an emergency can cause great anxiety.

Although an electrical or ventilator failure may not be avoided, an emergency plan supported by a remote ventilator alarm system, a communication device, and an emergency electrical failure support system can provide security and safety during an emergency event.

Home mechanical ventilators have built-in preset high and low pressure alarms, apnea alarms that sound when not enough breaths are taken, and power failure alarms with backup internal ventilator battery support.

Low pressure and power failure alarms are essential, but they may not provide enough alarm sound to alert a care-giver in an adjacent room. For this reason, a remote pressure alarm system that sounds near the caregiver is an important security measure. Most home ventilators do not have remote alarm features, although an exception is the Achieva® (Puritan Bennett) with cable lengths up to 100 feet.

There are a few stand-alone ventilator pressure alarms available on the market. The Pressure Alarm (Product No. 23001, Respironics, Inc.) is a low pressure alarm system that can be used with any home ventilator. This alarm can monitor a wide range of pressure from -99 to +99 cm H20 and can be used for both negative and positive pressure ventilators. The alarm is connected by an air line, up to 300 feet long, to a T-fitting in the ventilator tubing circuit. It can be powered by either battery or AC power.

Remote signaling devices provide security for the ventilator user as well as an audible signal close to the caregiver. There are few systems available on the market but Med Labs, Inc., a supplier of hospital remote call systems, also makes a home portable alarm system. E-Z Call™ is a sensitive “touch panel” that can be located anywhere on the bed so that it can be activated easily. E-Z Call™ is connected to a remote Med Labs PA-1 portable battery-powered alarm that alerts the caregiver.

Loss of power is an ever-present concern. Everyone who depends upon mechanical ventilation should have some type of emergency power supply. Most ventilators have an internal battery that will provide approximately only one hour of backup power in the event of an external power supply failure. An exception is the HT-50® (Newport Medical Instruments) with an internal battery that will power the ventilator for at least eight hours when fully charged.

Emergency power lighting can alert a caregiver to a power failure and also provide an immediate light source. Stationary and portable emergency sources are plugged into power outlets and activate when a power failure occurs. These are available from most hardware supply stores. Through the Internet, an Automatic Power Failure Lighting System, an emergency rechargeable power failure lighting (portable, desktop, wall) for up to four hours, and a Rechargeable Power Failure Flashlight that lights when power fails for up to one hour are available (

The alarm call signaling system and emergency lighting sources listed above are only examples of products that are available on the market. (Their inclusion here is not an endorsement.) A thorough search of this type of product on the Internet and an inquiry to a durable medical equipment supplier should provide more selections. Although these systems are not reimbursed by insurance, they are essential in providing security, safety and peace of mind, and are worth the out-of-pocket cost.

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