Last year, a team of nurses at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut asked Earl Morrison, the hospital’s mechanical assistant, if he could create a cart so that intensive care patients could move around the hospital and take their medical equipment with them. They had learned that Johns Hopkins University Hospital had improved recovery times and rates for its ICU patients by having them get up and walk while still on a respirator. But the Hartford work team couldn’t find a manufacturer that made mobile carts to carry around the heavy equipment.
They had inquired at conferences and contacted larger hospitals, to no avail. They were just about to ask the hospital for capital funds to make something from scratch, when Morrison’s name came up.
Morrison, who has worked at Hartford Hospital for 18 years, is known on the floors as a guy who only fixes things, but he also builds them. Custom car engine fabrication is one of his hobbies; it’s something he taught himself as a new immigrant from Jamaica before he even learned to drive. “I saw a Mazda Rx7 and I wanted it,” he says. “It had a blown motor. I bought it anyway. I bought my first set of tools and, from there, I just went on.
When his co-workers need a piece of equipment mounted with a special bracket or, say, a customized IV pole, Earl’s the one they call.
Morrison said, “Sure” to the ICU request, and he began to work up something. His co-workers figured it would take him a while.
He showed up a day later with a mobile cart made from metal scraps he had found lying around the shop, including an old computer work station that he disassembled and reconfigured.
The mobile unit, propelled by bodyweight as the patient leans on it for support, carries a heart monitor, breathing ventilator, an IV pole, a triple bypass pump, a Foley catheter and two oxygen tanks (one on either side to balance the weight). It includes thoughtful touches like a heart monitor that faces out, so the nurses can read it easily, and casters instead of stationary wheels so it’s easy to maneuver on the hospital’s pitched floors.
“When I took it back to the floor, they were blown out of their minds,” says Morrison. “It was like, ‘What is this?’ ”
A hospital staffer suggested they name the new device EARL and hold a contest to determine what the letters would stand for. The winner: Early Ambulation Rehabilitates Lives.
Saimir Sharofi, manager of respiratory services at Hartford Hospital, was impressed by Earl’s “ingenious piece,” but not all that surprised. “I’ll be honest with you. I’ve worked with Earl awhile and used his knowledge for several other projects. He’s very good at coming up with useful ideas.
Sharofi is currently working on a project to ensure safe oxygen portability, such as oxygen caddies or holders. Morrison “gave me some nice suggestions on where to get the proper equipment,” Sharofi says. “He’s going to ensure that the equipment is proper as well, and check engineering, and then it’s going to be placed on the floor.”
He says EARL has helped nearly 100 patients on ventilators get up and moving in the year it’s been rolling along the hospital floors. “It helps them to regain some of the muscles that haven’t been used in awhile,” Sharofi says. “And just moving — from lying down to standing to walking — improves lung function. The outcome is better, the ICU days are decreased and their recovery is faster.”
Medical device companies have expressed interest in manufacturing more EARLs, Sharofi notes, but the legal and behind-the-scenes details have yet to be worked out.
Meanwhile, Morrison earned praise from the hospital’s chief operating officer, Jeffrey A. Flaks, in a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services newsletter, and won the Hartford Business Journal’s Advancements in Health Care Innovation Award.
Requests are coming in from other parts of the hospital asking Morrison if he can work up more of the carts. “It would not be from scrap parts anymore,” Morrison qualifies. “It would be all new parts.”