Airgas Puritan Medical, the medical business of Airgas Inc,  reported survey results showing that while most hospital respiratory therapy directors said their hospitals had a dedicated supply of portable oxygen cylinders for a disaster or pandemic, most said they have less than 24 hours of oxygen to meet a surge need.  Most of those surveyed also are counting on suppliers to replenish oxygen supplies within six hours after a disaster.

The results of the 2007 Disaster Preparedness Study were unveiled at the 53rd Annual Convention and Exhibition of the American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC), held December 1-4, 2007 in Orlando, FL.

According to the study, 80% said their hospitals maintained a dedicated supply of portable oxygen cylinders for a disaster or pandemic.  Yet, 60% said they had less than 100 cylinders on hand in a typical month, and 58% said their supply would be used up by a 40-patient surge in 24 hours.  Only 32% reported that they had enough oxygen to last 72 hours or longer for the same surge.

The survey also found that about 40% of respondents were highly concerned about their ability to maintain an adequate supply of oxygen, and were highly concerned about their suppliers’ ability to replenish portable oxygen cylinders and bulk oxygen tanks.

In fact, 58% of hospital respiratory therapy directors expect their medical gas supplier will be able to replenish their supply within 6 hours in an emergency situation — an unrealistic timeframe, according to Airgas Puritan Medical Senior Vice President Kelly Justice.

“Although Airgas was able to respond within hours after Hurricane Katrina, we were the only medical gas supplier who could.  Hospitals should be planning with the expectation that their suppliers may have difficulty reaching them in the first 24 hours after a disaster,” said Justice.

Justice noted that on a normal day, 6 hours is a manageable response time for a hospital with an isolated emergency need.  “Yet, in a widespread disaster, the supplier will face difficulty reaching all of its hospitals, due to road closures and evacuations. That is why Airgas has created a National Oxygen Kit, so hospitals can maintain a dedicated supply of portable oxygen cylinders for those first hours after a disaster.”

Airgas Puritan Medical’s National Oxygen Kit (NOK) is designed to supply hospitals with immediate access to emergency oxygen during natural disasters or security events. This self-contained product is the first oxygen delivery system designed for immediate large-scale treatment. A single NOK is equipped with enough cylinders, regulators and masks to treat up to 40 people for a 24-hour period. Toggle valves allow instant access to oxygen without the need for an “e” key or other tools.  NOKs have a guaranteed shelf life of five years for the oxygen and 10 years for the cylinders – ensuring a low-maintenance supply for the long-term.

The telephone study, conducted in mid-November by International Communications Research, surveyed a sample of 151 respiratory therapy directors in the United States about their medical gas needs and disaster preparedness.