Hyperbaric laboratory earns accreditation

  • Published
  • By Rudy Purificato
  • 311th Human Systems Wing
Global health and safety received a much-needed shot in the arm recently when a U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine organization here became the first nationally accredited Department of Defense hyperbaric facility, according to officials.

The school’s hyperbaric medicine division, also known as the Davis Hyperbaric Laboratory, earned the accreditation from the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, the international scientific organization for hyperbaric medicine.

"This is a significant accomplishment," said Dr. Larry Krock, the school’s chief scientist. “We're very careful about safety. Through the accreditation process the (society) has defined strict safety requirements. We not only met those standards, we surpassed them.”

As the DOD's lead agent for clinical hyperbaric medicine since 1984, the Brooks facility is one of only 18 of the more than 500 hyperbaric facilities in the United States to receive the designation.

The use of hyperbaric oxygen was initially intended to treat divers for decompression sickness, commonly known as 'the bends,' and aviators suffering from altitude sickness.

Clinical operations here involve two multiplace and one monoplace hyperbaric chambers used to treat decompression sickness, arterial gas embolisms and carbon monoxide poisoning. The chambers are also used to treat non-healing wounds resulting from such conditions as failing skin grafts and radiation-induced tissue damage.

While the facility has not experienced a treatment-related fatality since its inception in 1963, several foreign hyperbaric treatment sites have had safety problems involving the use of pressurized oxygen.

One of the most deadly hyperbaric facility accidents in recent years occurred in Milan, Italy, in 1997.

"A patient's hand warmer was the ignition source for the explosion and fire that killed 11 people," said Capt. Melissa Mouchette, chief of nursing services for the hyperbaric division.

While hand warmers are prohibited in hyperbaric chambers, some foreign facilities allowed patients to use them because of the chilly conditions associated with temperature changes inside the chamber.

In Japan, a hand warmer used in a monoplace unit, a one-person hyperbaric chamber, caused an explosion that killed two.

"The explosion blew out the side of the hospital," Mouchette said. It killed the patient and his wife, who was sitting in the room with him.

These tragedies underscored a problem: the non-existence of a universally supported set of safety standards and the lack of an accreditation program that holds hyperbaric facilities accountable while treating patients.

The Brooks facility excelled in all inspection areas that included equipment quality, safety procedures, personnel training and documentation. The accreditation is good for three years.

The organization also received accreditation accolades for its use and fielding of the emergency evacuation hyperbaric stretcher, a portable unit that the Air Force developed with the Navy. (Courtesy Air Force Materiel Command News Service)