Every nurse working in a hospital knows to expect the unexpected. Just when the unit seems calm, your shift is well-staffed, and your patients are stable, it can turn on a dime: Your doctor decides he wants STAT blood work on one patient, your other patient’s IV infiltrates, and an admission comes in from the emergency room. Meanwhile, a code is called in the waiting room for a visitor that suddenly collapsed and is not breathing.

At times like these, adequate preparation for emergencies can help control the chaos. A major component of this preparation is having the necessary supplies readily available. For the code in the waiting room, it would be imperative to have a properly stocked code cart quickly rushed to the unconscious visitor. One of the primary goals would be to clear the airway. Since in-wall suction is not available in this location, having a medical suction unit on the cart would be critical.

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Can you think of other situations where emergency suction would be needed? An extended power outage, failure of the in-wall suction, or the need for suction in an area where wall suction is unavailable are events for which your hospital must be prepared. Situations such as these are when portable emergency suction may be life-saving.


There are several factors that influence exactly how many portable suction devices your hospital should have available. Ask yourself the following questions to get an idea of how many medical suction units your facility should have:


1. Does your hospital have in-wall suction in every patient room?

While it is often assumed that hospitals have in-wall suction at every bedside, your smaller or rural hospital may not.


2. Does your hospital have many intubated patients? Does it have many patients with tracheostomies?

Patients with artificial airways may require frequent suctioning of secretions.


3. Does your hospital have a large trauma center?

Suction is vital for emergency airway management. It is also needed for injury treatment, such as pneumothorax or hemothorax. And for patients in hallways or outside the trauma center, a lack of a portable medical suction unit can spell disaster. 


4. Do you have a portable suction device on every crash cart?

Not all codes occur at the bedside and your code cart needs to supply all necessary equipment.


5. What about the nurses station?

When a patient collapses, it can be in an area that’s less than ideal for providing treatment. This is where your nurses and nurse stations enter the scene, since they’re spread out at regular intervals. Medical suction units placed in these stations can mean a better outcome for a patient who faints in a corridor before they can be transported to the ER or back to their hospital bed.


6. How about the ICU?

During an event like a natural disaster, power may be cut. With portable medical suction units, you don’t have to worry about power outages or wait for the hospital’s generator to kick in to provide lifesaving care.


7. Does your hospital deliver a large number of babies?

Newborns require suction at birth, and for some with meconium in the amniotic fluid, immediate intubation and suction are critical.


8. How many surgical patients do you have daily?

During surgery, suction is used for aspirating an airway and for intra-operative suction. Should in-wall suction malfunction during surgery, portable suction is essential.


9. How many patients do you generally have that require gastric suction?

How many patients do you generally have that require thoracic suction? Patients with a nasogastric tube or a chest tube may require constant or intermittent suction.


10. Do you often transport patients for diagnostic testing or procedures or to other units?

Suction needs to be available for emergencies that can occur on transport and also for those who need it continuously.


It is evident that there are many situations where suction is imperative in the hospital. Having the capability to provide suction at any location and at any given time is a necessity.


Thankfully, many great emergency medical suction units exist today. During a resuscitation, they are easy to operate and reliable. They are powerful enough to provide the necessary suction, yet safe for both the patient and the user, and able to be utilized in all areas of the hospital.


As a nurse, you are committed to patient safety. Having an adequate number of portable suction devices in your hospital is one way to meet this goal.


Editor's note: This blog was originally from June 2015. It has been re-published with additional up to date content.