The Daily Herald writes that after an intensive refurbishment, carried out by Gussow-Voyé Drucktechnik from Germany September 6-21, the Hyperbaric Chamber at Fort Bay now boasts a brand-new state-of-heart compressor, air banks, super-precise control panel and a digital dive recorder. The chamber was thoroughly tested to a maximum pressure of 5.8 bars and is now fully operational again.
The hyperbaric chamber is important to Saba’s medical and tourism sectors. In November 2012, the Island Government announced that a grant of US $ 50,000 would be made available to refurbish the facility. Some minor works still need to be undertaken before a request can be made for Divers Alert Network (DAN) to re-approve the chamber in November.
Since Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) is to hand over the administration of the facility to the Island Government after finalization of the project, the main task remaining is the establishment of a committee to resume that responsibility. In the meantime, a separate, dedicated bank account has been established with funds deposited by SCF, in an amount equal to outstanding hyperbaric chamber fees claimed by Saba dive operators. These monies should be sufficient to allow a successful start of a new Saba Hyperbaric Medical Facility, with the involvement of the relevant stakeholders on the island, it was stated in a press released issued Friday by Government Information Service Saba.
In support of dive tourism, the Dutch Navy donated a decommissioned hyperbaric chamber to Saba in 1991. With the assistance of dedicated volunteers, SCF was charged with management of the medical facility. Over a time span of about 18 years, it was used mainly for the treatment of scuba -dive accidents throughout the region, but also proved valuable for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) applications, including slow-healing wounds and carbon-monoxide poisoning. However, with the advancement of dive technology, the number of dive accidents has steadily decreased. Also, very few HBOT applications are covered by general medical insurance and the collection of treatment charges was difficult.
Although a $1 fee per scuba dive was introduced in 2007 to sustain the operations, the hyperbaric chamber was running at a loss. There were fewer and fewer trained volunteer chamber drivers and tenders available for the upkeep of the emergency oncall schedule 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Dräger pressure vessel, manufactured in 1966, and supply systems were in urgent need of repairs and upgrades to maintain international standards and DAN-certification, which SCF could not afford. Hence, the foundation was forced to close the facility in 2009. To continue providing dive emergency services, SCF set up an arrangement with Saba University School of Medicine to utilize their hyperbaric facility until a solution for the Fort Bay chamber could be found.
Two SCF staff members were trained in the use of equipment, and oxygen tanks for treatments were transferred from Fort Bay to the Medical School. It was made clear that the facility could be used for the treatment of Decompression Sickness (DCS) cases only if a local physician determined an emergency situation that could cause significant damage to the health of the patient. Because the school had concerns about liability, a formal agreement could not be established and SCF discontinued the collection of chamber fees on March 1, 2011.