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Heart of America Medical Center’s Elevator 1 taken out of commission

By Sue Sitter - | Jun 26, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Environmental Services Director Ron Biggs stands outside non-functional Elevator 1 at Heart of America Medical Center.

It’s been more than one year since the Good Samaritan Hospital Association began their “Give Elevator One a Lift” fundraising project.

Now the elevator has stopped functioning altogether.

Environmental Services Director Ron Biggs said his department made the decision to close the elevator June 14 after two events threatened the safety of those inside.

“Safety is the issue,” Biggs said.

“We had two failures to transport last week. One was with a staff member who had to just sit and wait. This was after hours. It’s an hour away minimum for the Otis technician to get here. So, they were trapped in there for over an hour,” Biggs said.

“Now, no one’s alone anymore when they have their phone, so they were able to get ahold of us and we were able to get ahold of them to keep them calm and collected but it takes time,” Biggs added.

“The one prior to (the staff member) was in a wheelchair,” Biggs said. “Different story entirely. Anyone caught in there is at threat for personal injury from the rescue. Whether we have to pull them up from the floor or bring them down from above, almost every time the car does not land in the right spot. So, everybody involved is exposed to danger and injury.”

Biggs said staffers safely rescued the person in the wheelchair from the car that stopped just short of the floor.

“This isn’t a one-off incident,” Biggs said, adding the recent incidents were two “of many, many failures to transport and sometimes, the Otis technicians will get here to do a repair and within an hour or a few hours, it’s failed again. So, it’s very frustrating. It’s a very costly thing.”

Biggs said maintenance staff had known for about five years the elevator’s control panel needed updates. However, the update would be costly.

“The project was necessitated because of the failures to transport people up and down, which is the only reason an elevator exists,” Biggs said. “We cannot get parts for it. Otis Elevator is our contract and service person and they have three others of these same control models in this state and all three have the same issues and all three are being re-controlled.

A new control system will cost the hospital $250,000, according to Biggs.

Biggs said the high price tag comes because “they have to completely strip the electronics, all the wiring, everything to do with the control system out and replace it. It’s going from old, what I call ‘click click’ mechanical controls – because you can hear them in the background – to digital.”

The digital system would include remote, online maintenance.

“So,” Biggs added, “The ability for digital to get outside online remote evaluations and repairs is a very good tool. Currently, (if a problem occurs), they can’t see anything about it; they know nothing about it until they get here. So, having that online, that digital thing makes it easier for them to facilitate control repairs and adjustments that need to be made.”

“The inside of the car is going to get a revamp and modernization so it will look basically like a new elevator. We’ll have new controls on each floor by the door and we’ll have new controls in the carriage and the interior,” Biggs said. “It’s a good upgrade.”

Biggs said hospital maintenance staff can do little to repair the elevator because they lack the proper knowledge and training.

“Maintenance staff cannot touch a man lift device. That’s why we have (a contract) with Otis. Those are trained elevator technicians. We can replace a light bulb if we need to. We can, on the ground floor, force a door open if somebody is right there, if we need to. But beyond that, we’re not allowed to touch the system. So, because this is a man lift device, it falls under a regulation that says only a certified elevator technician can touch it,” Biggs said.

“We’re doing everything we’re allowed to do,” Biggs added. “Otis does the maintenance, inspections, testing and repairs.”

“What does this mean for our other elevators?” Biggs asked. “That means the entire load of the building is being transferred to other elevators. One of those was built in 1964. It is having some issues.”

“The third elevator in the building was rebuilt about 15 years ago, replaced by a hydraulic system instead of a hoist weight. Both of these others are cable hoist,” Biggs added.

“So, yeah, the one from ’64 by (the dietary department) is experiencing some fatigue and we expect to see some more fatigue,” Biggs said.

Biggs said the facility’s long-term care center is located on the third floor, and moving patients to the ground floor safely is a critical need.

Hospital staff participates in regular drills to practice evacuating patients to the ground floor, according to Biggs.

“We have an evacuation plan in place if we have to evacuate,” Biggs said. “We have pushed everything we can for Otis to get an earlier start. It hinges on equipment arrivals.”

Biggs estimated equipment to repair the elevator would arrive in September. Repairs would likely finish up “the last week in November or the first week in December,” Biggs said.

Biggs added, “People say, ‘Why are you going to do this if you’re going to move to a new building?’ In my position, I’m obligated to maintain this building to safe standards until the day after we exit.”

“That’s why we’re doing the HVAC jobs; that’s why we’re doing the elevator; that’s why we’re doing the continued maintenance. We’re obligated to until we are out of here and it’s no longer our building,” Biggs said.

Biggs said he looked forward to a new hospital building planned for the Good Samaritan Hospital Association.

Biggs said the new facility’s one-floor design “is a big thing we’re looking forward to. The biggest downfall with this building is we’re multi-story, which means we have to have staffing on multi stories, which spreads our people out and makes our effectiveness very low. So, there’s a lot of wasted space and a lot of wasted steps to get from A to B to accomplish a task.”

“So, we’re very excited about the new building, just the ease of its operation, the better layout where the flow of the work is engineered and it’s set up that it allows you to do an efficient job as you’re bringing in somebody for care, the check-in, the emergency services, everything down to PT is set up to be efficient,” Biggs said. “That means our profitability will be impacted.”

“This building is inadequate,” Biggs added. “This might have been fine years ago, but it’s outdated and our services have changed to where our services and this building do not mesh anymore. The future of healthcare is headed in this other direction, not where this building was.”

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