Relocatable Power Taps (Power Strips)

12-120-878-TS[1]There has been a lot of discussion about power strips (or relcoatable power taps, as some authorities call them) lately, and most of it is not to our advantage. None of the discussion is actually news to us, it’s just a re-hash of existing positions.

During the recent NFPA Annual Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, George Mills, the Director of Engineering for The Joint Commission said he approached the NFPA Healthcare Interpretation Task Force (HITF) back in 2007 and asked them to make a ruling on whether power strips are acceptable for use in patient care areas. George said after much discussion, the HITF did not come to a consensus, and therefore no interpretation was issued.

Since then, The Joint Commission surveyors have been allowing power strips in patient care areas, and some surveyors even required the devices to be UL listed for the application. Then, earlier this year, the leadership at The Joint Commission asked George what the accreditor’s official position was on the use of power strips, so he decided to contact the CMS home office in Baltimore to see what they allow.

George reported at the May AAMI Annual Conference in Philadelphia that CMS is taking the hard line of saying power strips (relocatable power taps) are not to be used in anesthesia areas and on medical equipment. This is based on NFPA 99 (1999 edition), section 7-5.1.2.5 which only allows relocatable power taps provided they are an integral part of the equipment assembly and permanently attached; and the sum of the ampacity of all appliances connected to the relocatable power tap shall not exceed 75% of the ampacity of the relocatable power tap. A regular program to verify the integrity of the above permanently attached relocatable power taps is required.

This piece of information was picked up by a lot of different healthcare news outlets, blogs and online notification services (including yours truly) and re-distributed to the point where CMS had to make an unofficial email announcement to their deemed accredited organizations (and presumably to their state agencies) that in fact no new issuance of a policy or an announcement was made concerning power strips, and they referred to NFPA 99 as their standard. Now ASHE has made an announcement acknowledging CMS’ position, and to say they are working to convince CMS to consider issuing a categorical waiver to allow the immediate use of NFPA 99 2012, which seems to have a more user friendly approach to power strips.

But, the bottom line is The Joint Commission (and the other accreditors) do not have any option but to follow this difficult interpretation of the standard as dictated by CMS. George Mills unofficially said they will enforce no power strips in patient care areas, and no power strips on medical equipment, unless it meets the requirement of NFPA 99 7-5.1.2.5 and it is integrated with the medical equipment, and this is all regardless of the UL listing. So power strips like UL 1363A which are listed for use in anesthetizing locations would not be acceptable to the accreditors.

For the record, the HITF wrestled with the issue of power strips once more this year in Las Vegas but again did not arrive at a conclusive interpretation. Chad Beebe representing ASHE said he wants to take this issue to CMS to attempt them to change their minds on the rigid interpretation.  I guess you need to stay tuned to see what transpires next…