Saving Lives, One Device at a Time: Clinical Engineering

Behind every health care provider, or perhaps already in the palms of their hands, is a piece of equipment necessary to their patient’s health and survival. Modern medical treatment relies on complex equipment to keep patients alive and healthy during procedures and recovery. Take live-saving equipment such as telemetry monitors, MRI machines and ventilators as just a few examples.

But what happens when all that equipment needs repair?

Christopher Gursky is a radiology service technician.

Enter ChristianaCare’s clinical engineering technicians. This team of 35 employees — one of the largest clinical engineering teams in the nation — is responsible for overseeing the care, testing and repair of the roughly 50,000 pieces of medical equipment in use throughout the ChristianaCare system.

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The Clinical Engineering team is overseen by Director Blake Collins, MBA, CBET, CHTM, nationally recognized for excellence in the profession. He brings two decades of experience as a clinical engineer in the United States Navy, seven of which were served with the U.S. Marine Corps, to his role. His team has won numerous trade industry awards for its success as a “solutions provider” for the health system.

Collins consults with Pedro Caraballo, a biomedical equipment technician.

“Think of health care as a triangle,” said Collins. “You have the patient, the provider and the equipment. You can’t have successful health care delivery without those three elements.”

Begun in the 1970s as the hospital system’s “TV repair shop,” he joked, the Clinical Engineering department evolved dramatically after subsequent national developments in electrical safety testing and oversight for the care and functionality of medical equipment.

‘Everyone truly cares’

Today, the Clinical Engineering department maintains close to 50,000 pieces of medical equipment throughout the ChristianaCare system, including its three hospitals and all its imaging centers. “From thermometers to linear accelerators, MRIs, CTs — we manage all of it,” Collins said. Last year, the team completed 25,000 work orders, or roughly 2,100 per month.

Clerk Vanessa Pope discusses equipment with Collins.

“We get to help people in so many different ways,” said John Learish, Clinical Engineering manager.

Samantha Daws, Clinical Engineering supervisor, echoed the sentiment. “The Clinical Engineering Department within ChristianaCare is the most talented group of technicians I have ever had the privilege to work with,” she said.

“Everyone truly cares about keeping the equipment working to ensure all caregivers have what is needed to provide quality health care to our community.”

Saving lives, one device at a time

What’s so important about what Clinical Engineering offers to ChristianaCare? In short: Anyone could need medical care at any time, and if medical equipment were out of commission or wrongly calibrated, lives would be at stake.

Biomedical equipment technicians Mike Robinson (left) and Brian Barton tend to a repair.

Collins recalls a pivotal moment during his tenure in the Navy, when he needed an emergency appendectomy while stationed on board an aircraft carrier. “I was the only biomedical technician on the ship,” he said. “And the doctor doing the procedure asked me, jokingly, ‘Hey Collins, is this equipment going to work?’

“He was kidding, but it’s true that we never know when we or a loved one is going to end up under the equipment that we work on as engineers.”

This experience gained new significance for Collins after successful open-heart surgery at ChristianaCare in 2022 — followed by his mother, who had the same procedure, also successfully, in 2023.

“I had not one inkling or shadow of a doubt that the equipment was going to work fine,” he said. “You never know who will end up needing care. So we take it very, very seriously.”

Icon in the field

For his outstanding service as Director of Clinical Engineering at ChristianaCare, Collins was presented with the 2024 John D. Hughes Iconoclast Award from the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI), a career-marking honor in health care technology management.

Blake Collins

The award recognizes innovation and leadership in the field; for Collins, it shows how well the Clinical Engineering team works together to deliver safe medical equipment across the ChristianaCare system.

“Blake has been a relentless advocate for ChristianaCare,” read his nomination. “He has implemented numerous initiatives and processes to improve his department … and work smarter through the use of technology and automation.”

The next time you see a ChristianaCare provider pick up an instrument or turn on a machine, think about the Clinical Engineering team — and rest assured that your equipment is ready to go.