Scott Daigger, Eric Van Middendorp and Tom Calalano pose for a photo with their design and installation of a special protector.
Scott Daigger, left, worked with Eric Van Middendorp, center, and Tom Catalano, right, on the design and installation of special protectors to maintain the life of gas ports in patient rooms at Spectrum Health hospitals. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Three inches of steel.

That’s all it takes for Spectrum Health Innovations’ Thomas Catalano and Eric Van Middendorp to lead new health solutions.

And while a flat, laser-cut piece of metal might not seem especially innovative, in reality it provides a brilliantly simple solution to a complex problem.

Gas ports fitted with oxygen and vacuum regulators are found in every patient examination room, ports that take a lot of wear and tear day-in and day-out.

Roughly 150 ports each year need repair in Spectrum Health Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals alone, repairs that cost money and, more importantly, disrupt care, as patients need to be moved out of the room during repairs.

“We all have been aware of the problem,” Catalano explained, “but no one addressed it. Everyone was too busy.”

So Catalano made time. A longtime Spectrum Health tradesman, he had an idea of how to fix it: those ports need some protection.

To offset the weight and wear-and-tear of the regulators, Catalano created a spring steel support, serving as shock absorber and flexible brace to eliminate sagging and port damage.

Eric Van Middendorp and Tom Calalano pose for a photo with their design and installation of a special protector.
Eric Van Middendorp, right, and Tom Catalano, left, pose for a picture with their port protector design. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

While Catalano’s solution works wonders—regulators have been retrofitted with the device to prevent port failure—it’s a costly solution to mass produce.

Enter Eric Van Middendorp, a Grand Valley State University student studying for his Master of Science in Engineering.

The university is one of several organizations that Spectrum Health Innovations collaborates with to bring ideas to life. Together, Van Middendorp and Catalano engineered a smaller, streamlined and less costly support—one that can be mass produced more affordably.

“You don’t want to introduce new costs to the hospital with any product,” Van Middendorp said. “So your manufacturing costs need to be as low as possible to have a viable price point.”

So far, the new port protector has been installed on more than 50 ports, in addition to many of Catalano’s original spring steel devices that are in use. If the ports last two to three times longer, as estimated, the piece could save $16,000 in port replacement costs over three years at Butterworth Hospital and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital alone.

“It’s a small device that can make a big impact, and is just one of the ways we’re leading new health solutions,” said Scott Daigger, Spectrum Health Innovations manager of innovation and entrepreneurship.