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State officials, Maryland PIRG, repair advocates, and 43,000 petition signers to urge companies to let others fix medical equipment during COVID-19 crisis

Maryland PIRG

Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp has added her name to a letter organized by Pennsylvania‘s Joe Torsella calling on ventilator manufacturers to release proprietary repair manuals, service keys, schematics and repair software.  

The push to get manufacturers to remove restrictions on who can fix these life-saving devices has built considerable momentum in recent weeks. 

The letter from state treasurers 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. As of last week, 5 state treasurers had signed on, but some, including Kopp, have since added their name.

“During this public health crisis, we need to utilize any and all available resources,” said Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp. “Ventilators should not go unused solely because hospitals aren’t able to make the necessary repairs. I join Treasurer Torsella in calling on manufacturers of this life-saving equipment to release this information and remove this barrier.”

Groups like Maryland PIRG, U.S. PIRG and have been calling for action from the manufacturers and have delivered 43,000-plus signatures supporting the right to repair to 25 different ventilator manufacturers. 

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. 

“We need to make it easy for hospital technicians to fix ventilators, no exceptions,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emiy Scarr. “We should immediately take action to get anyone who is fixing ventilators what they need. I applaud Treasurer Nancy Kopp for adding her voice to the call.” 

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. 

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. U.S. PIRG 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