Tag: utility programs

Medical Device Back-up Power

medical device with battery
What happens if the battery can’t be recharged?

Do you or family members depend on electricity-powered medical devices?

Before you jump ahead, or jump off altogether because you think you don’t need “medical device back-up power,” please think again.

You may not use a medical device right now, but it’s certainly possible that at some point you, your parent, or a neighbor will look forward to having one of these very common “devices:”

  • Motorized scooter or wheel chair
  • Tilt-up recliner chair
  • Adjustable bed

It’s also very possible that family members and neighbors already have devices you don’t even know about, like . . .

  • Humidifier
  • CPAP machine
  • Oxygen concentrator

What will happen to these machines when the power goes out?

Unless the device has some sort of back-up power, it will stop working. End of story.

So imagine your aging father in his recliner, stuck half-up and half down! Or your husband who can’t sleep a wink without his CPAP machine! These are examples from real life.

Do you have a plan for your own medical device back-up power?

That power could come from a gasoline-driven generator – but that’s really overkill (and potentially dangerous) for a simple device like a humidifier.

Power could come from a solar generator – but only if that generator has been set up with a battery to store electricity during the day so it can be fed to your device at night.

Power could come from the right sized battery backup.  Here’s a sample of what I have found out.

Electric beds

Adjustable beds are plugged into the wall and their motor is operated with a hand-held remote. These beds should have an “emergency power down” function. If power goes out, the power-down function can be activated. All it takes are 2 or 3 small batteries inserted specially into the power-down device. The bed will come down until it is flat. The batteries will be exhausted. So, the question for you: if you have or are considering an electric bed, WHERE is the power-down controller and WHERE are the appropriate batteries for it? And if someone is trapped in the bed, could that person activate the power-down safety feature? (If you’re worried, be sure you get answers before you buy!)

Lift chairs and recliners

Tilt-up chairs also seem to have a battery back-up feature that can plug into the wall for charging. (Some people use the battery all the time to avoid having visible cords.) Again, the question. Does your chair have back-up power and do you know how it works? If it doesn’t have a back-up, what size/type does the manufacturer recommend? (Prices for these back-ups seem to hover around $100.)

Portable battery-back-ups for CPAP and other smaller machines

The back-up batteries for these devices are really just oversized “power banks,” designed so you can take them camping or traveling. Of course, you can use them when the power goes out, too.

But they are amazingly expensive! I saw prices starting at $200 and heading quickly up to $600. Still, if you need the CPAP machine, you need the battery back-up! Here are a couple of examples to get you started shopping. The first is sturdy and flexible with three ways to charge (plug into the wall when you have electricity, use a solar panel – not included – or plug into your car’s dashboard). The second example, smaller and more compact, weighs half as much – and costs around 3 times as much at Amazon. Click on the images or links to see details.

200W Peak Power Station, Flashfish CPAP Battery 166Wh 45000mAh Backup Power Pack 110V 150W Lithium Battery Pack Camping Solar Generator for CPAP Camping Home Emergency Power Supply

This second model, below, provides important information about exactly which models of CPAP machines it will work for. As you shop, be sure you are looking for back-ups that will fit your own product.

CPAP Battery/Backup Power Supply for Philips Dream Station, System One and other 12V Devices. Pilot12 Lite is the Smallest, Lightest and Longest Lasting Battery on the Market Today!

Since your utility is responsible for the outage, what will it do for you while the power is out?

This is the question that actually kicked off this whole Advisory. I was invited to attend a webinar about the subject. And after that webinar and some wide-ranging research, my answer is, “Not a lot.”

I searched out and reviewed a dozen or so “programs” offered by utilities across the country. The programs have names like “Medical Baseline Allowance Program” (CA), “Medical Support with Devices” (AZ), “Lifelight Service” (MA), “Medically Essential Service” (FL), and “Life Support Equipment Program” (WA).  I couldn’t find programs at all in several states.

Here are typical services. Not all programs offer them all.

  1. Extra notifications (when possible) in advance of a shut-off (email, phone call, letter)
  2. A lower monthly energy bill (extra kilowatt-hours every month and/or a discount on the bill)
  3. Extra grace time before power is shut off due to bill not being paid

And here’s a statement that I saw, in one form or another, on nearly every site.

PLEASE NOTE: Backup generators and transportation services are not part of this program. Participation in this program does not mean your electric power will be restored sooner than others.

Now, if you do have medical equipment and would like to sign up, here’s how it works.

Go to your utility website and get the application. Basically, your doctor has to attest that you have a “qualifying medical condition” and require a “qualifying medical device” to treat your condition. (The application has to be renewed every year or every two years. Exceptions apply this year because of the Coronavirus.) Here are excerpts from the application site for the program where I live in California.

Some qualifying medical conditions include:

  • Paraplegic, hemiplegic or quadriplegic condition
  • Multiple sclerosis with special heating and/or cooling needs
  • Scleroderma with special heating needs
  • Life-threatening illness or compromised immune system, and special heating and/or cooling are needed to sustain life or prevent medical deterioration
  • Asthma and/or sleep apnea

And, some qualifying medical devices include:

  • Motorized wheelchair/scooter
  • IPPB or CPAP machines
  • Respirator (all types)
  • Hemodialysis machine
  • Iron lung

Here are examples of devices that do NOT qualify:

  • Heating Pads
  • Humidifiers
  • Pool or Tank Heaters
  • Saunas or Hot Tubs
  • Vaporizers
  • Whirlpool Pumps

(A link on this site leads to a list of 23 different devices that could qualify. It’s in the Find out if you qualify section.)

I did NOT see electric beds or chairs on any of these lists. Nor did I see any answer to the problem of needing to keep medicines refrigerated.

Since the utility can’t help with medical device back-up power, what do they suggest we do?

All the utilities stressed the importance of having a “personal emergency plan” for outages, and sharing that plan with family and friends.

Some specific recommendations included identifying people who will help if you need to evacuate, collecting names and locations of alternate doctors and pharmacies, and being sure you are signed up with any governmental and local programs that support people with disabilities.

We have addressed plans for people with disabilities and will be doing more. This Advisory on the topic was written for members of our local neighborhood emergency response group:

So should you sign up for a medical device program with your utility?

If you can save on your utility bill, why not? Just be sure you understand exactly how the program works before making any assumptions. And be sure whatever “medical devices” you have or are contemplating will qualify you.

Above all, program or not, it’s up to YOU to have a plan for medical device back-up power when the utility power shuts down. You’ll have to become the expert on your own equipment. Before you start shopping for a battery back-up or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) you need to know:

  • Exactly how much current your equipment requires (amps and wattage)
  • How long it has to run continuously (or how long you want it to run)

The more capacity you want, the bigger the unit (and the more expensive).  I’d recommend you get your specifications and then head to Amazon to see what is available. Below is a link to a medium-sized model (1500 VA) from APC, a well-known and respected manufacturer. This will get you started.

APC 1500VA UPS Battery Backup & Surge Protector with AVR, Back-UPS Pro Uninterruptible Power Supply (BR1500G)

And finally, don’t forget to have your device plugged in to the UPS so it can take over when the power goes out!

OK, that’s it for now. Summer is here, with a higher risk of power outages. Don’t overlook preparing for back-up power sources if you need them.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. What about Medicare/Medicaid? From the research I have done so far, it looks as though they won’t pay for back-up power supplies, even if they will pay for the medical device itself. What do you know about this?