“Here I am in the biggest hospital in Upstate New York, where I spend most of my time these days and where fire alarms go off just because the staff sometimes make popcorn in the microwave,” Vlad Voiculescu’s former personal advisor begins her message, posted on her Facebook page.
Elena Ovreiu, 36, arrived in mid-February at the Ministry of Health, after two devastating fires in the ICU wards of two COVID hospitals (SJ Piatra Neamt and “Matei Balș” in the capital) had already left 34 dead. Ovreiu is a lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, specialising in Medical Engineering.
As a medical engineer, she came to the ministry with the desire to develop a technical project to prevent fires in Romanian hospitals.
“Apart from the fact that our hospitals are built according to standards of 40-50 years ago, we don’t have specialised technical staff and we don’t have hospital maintenance rules. In order for a hospital to operate 24/7 and especially in overloaded conditions, we need trained technical staff, engineers, guidelines and maintenance rules,” Ovreiu points out.
The project she had started to set up was shelved after her departure from the Ministry of Health, which followed Vlad Voiculescu’s resignation in April.
56 engineers and technicians check the medical equipments in the Upstate New York hospital
Now Elena Ovreiu is on a Fulbright grant at the University of Rochester, New York, which includes Strong Memorial Hospital, where she has seen with her own eyes the things she hopes to implement in Romania.
“There are four departments that take care of the upkeep of the hospital. More than 65,000 pieces of medical equipment are maintained and repaired in-house by a team of 56 engineers and technicians. This reduces maintenance costs by 15%, which also means hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a single piece of equipment,” says the former health ministry adviser, who wanted to train a new generation of local medical engineers in hospitals.
Whereas “not only do we not have this technical staff in our hospitals, but we also don’t even have an IT person. When I told them that we don’t even have an IT person in the hospital, they looked at me like I was from the Middle Ages,” she says.
“A major responsibility”
The New York hospital even has a program that tracks and documents preventive checks and repairs for each piece of equipment. “You find the entire history of a piece of equipment, from the purchase price, maintenance checks, duration and documentation of each check, as well as the person responsible,” Ovreiu explains.
“They tell me that when they repair or check an equipment, they feel a major responsibility. That could be the device that their family or even they themselves will be dealing with at some point,” says Vlad Voiculescu’s former adviser.
In the meantime, maintenance of medical equipment in Romania, where there are no technical staff, is handled by specialised companies. “And I’m convinced that we pay more for equipment maintenance than they do,” concludes Elena Ovreiu.
Back to Romania
Originally from Teleorman, Elena Ovreiu teaches at both the Faculty of Electronics and Telecommunications and the Faculty of Medical Engineering at the Bucharest Polytechnic. She returned to Romania after completing her PhD in France, and studied in Singapore, Israel and Colombia. After her PhD she also went to China. Back in the country, she organised a medical imaging school, where she brings in professors from MIT, Stanford and John Hopkins University.
Article translated from Libertatea Newspaper.