Support from the shadows: Medic maintainers
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- When caring for patients, doctors at Misawa Air Base's 35th Medical Group use the latest in biomedical equipment to assist in diagnosing or providing treatment.
Whether it is medical imaging equipment, defibrillators, surgical or clinical laboratory machinery, these pieces of equipment are likely to require corrective maintenance at some point in their life span.
When these machines go down, there is a team of experts to look to in order to get their machinery back up and running.
The Medical Maintenance team composed of biomedical equipment technicians are just that group of experts to call in order to troubleshoot and repair malfunctioning machinery.
"We must have equipment up and running to provide care to patients," said Staff Sgt. Paul Kerkman, 35th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of Medical Maintenance.
As highly skilled maintenance technicians, Misawa's BMETs are entrusted to make sure an estimated 2,000 pieces of medical equipment at Misawa are in working condition to help serve patients' medical and veterinary care, as well as DODD schools, and Public Access Defibrillators located throughout the 35th Fighter Wing.
Servicing equipment with a total value of more than $14 million, the team has their daily work cut out for them as they average completion of approximately 300 work orders each month.
"Preventative maintenance is similar to the flight line, it extends lifespan of the equipment and ensures it is available to providers for patient treatment." said Staff Sgt. Aaron Becker, 35 MDSS NCO in charge of Scheduled Maintenance.
While most of the work is preventative maintenance, approximately one-third of them are unscheduled work orders on equipment that unexpectedly malfunctions or requires upgrades.
The team is committed to making sure work orders are serviced on a priority basis order because it often involves equipment that prevents healthcare providers from fulfilling their job.
"If we don't fix equipment, then providers are cancelling appointments, or surgeries at times," said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Johnson, 35th MDSS NCO in charge of Facility Management. "Our job is very critical and in turn very stressful, but we know if we do our job right, then there is nothing to worry about."
Being the technical experts in medical equipment repair also means they need to be ready to respond on site at any given moment.
"We are always on call," Johnson said.
Even during a surgical procedure, technicians need to be able to emergency respond and come to straighten things out. BMETs may be called upon to troubleshoot equipment while patients are within the surgical field or awaiting treatment.
"The buck stops with us," stated Johnson.
If there was ever to be a medical mishap involving any piece of medical equipment, then any previous maintenance done on it would be scrutinized. Thus there are no cutting corners when it comes to fixing up equipment because BMETs are entrusted with dealing with life-saving technologies. Annual quality assurance inspections conducted by PACAF Medical Equipment Repair Center personnel out of Yokota AB, Japan audit equipment and programs to ensure proper calibration and functionality.
Even though BMETs are in the background, they affect every patient that comes through the 35th MDG because every piece of equipment a provider uses, the BMETs have evaluated or serviced it prior to issue to the work center.
In addition to working on the mechanical aspects of equipment, BMETs are also trained on plumbing, electricity, and even computer systems administration. But one unique aspect of their job's requirement is being knowledgeable on certain facets of anatomy and physiology.
When troubleshooting a piece of equipment, communication with the doctor or operator who is utilizing that machine is key to figuring out what might need to be corrected.
"This is what sets us apart from other maintenance career fields," said Johnson. "When it comes down to diagnosing and troubleshooting a problem or teaching the clinical application of a medical device to a doctor, it takes the knowledge of anatomy and physiology in knowing what it is going to take to get the equipment up and running."
One technician who has seen the ins and outs of BMET at Misawa is Junji Maruya, a Japanese civilian 35th MDSS BMET, who has worked on base for 27 years. Maruya is a unique asset available to the 35th MDG. He is the only Japanese national BMET working within the Air Force.
Having been here since the days when the 35 MDG was operating from what is now the Collocated Club, he has seen the technology expand and advance.
"My favorite part of this job has been working with all kinds of equipment," said Maruya. "Every day is different."
Though now assisting as a liaison for high priority item repair from local contractors among other things, he knows they'll always get the job done or at least find the right person to assist in doing so.
"If you don't see us in the work center then that's a good thing," said Master Sgt. Robert McNeill, 35 MDSS NCO in charge of clinical engineering. "That means everything is operational."