Hospital Generator Fails During Storm
This article looks at a Connecticut hospital's response when their generator failed during Tropical Storm Irene. Mt questions to our friends and clients:
1. When was the last time you drilled for a power failure AND a generator failure?
2. How would you procure an emergency generator in a hurry...when everyone else is looking for them?
There are ways that you can assure your hospital or healthcare facility that a backup generator will be available and delivered in a matter of hours, if you set up your program properly. Call me for more details.
When Power Generator Fails, Hospital Takes Extreme Measure Of Evacuation
Medical Community Unites To Move 43 Patients From Rooms, To Ambulances, To Other Hospitals, Health Centers
STAFFORD — At 8:30 a.m. Sunday, power went out at Johnson Memorial Medical Center.
Normally this wouldn't be a problem. Power comes from two Connecticut Light & Power Co. sources — one in Stafford, one in Somers. But Sunday, power feeds on both sides of the hill where the hospital is located failed, and the approaching Tropical Storm Irene kept utility workers from getting there to fix the problem.
It was the first event in a day that would end with a full evacuation of the hospital, an unprecedented move that took 4 1/2 hours and relied on the cooperation of several area hospitals, state officials, and emergency workers in surrounding towns.
Transporting all 43 patients — a logistically and emotionally fraught process — took the efforts of 23 ambulances, some from as far as New Haven, most making two trips each. Patients were taken to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford and Hartford Hospital, as well as hospitals and health centers in Manchester, Vernon, New Britain and Hebron.
As at other Connecticut hospitals, officials and staff at Johnson Memorial spent much of last week preparing for Hurricane Irene. They made sure that there were enough medical supplies and food, arranged for extra staff and tested the generator. None of which was enough Sunday.
Ten seconds after power went out, the hospital's generator took over, and operations continued as normal until 3:30 p.m. That's when the generator failed.
"We started calling up and down the East Coast, looking for a generator, but, of course, you know what was happening up and down the East Coast," said David Morgan, the hospital's president and CEO.
Within a half-hour, after discussions with hospital staff and area emergency personnel, Morgan made the decision to evacuate patients in the hospital's intensive-care unit. Fortunately, none was on a ventilator, which would have made the already tricky matter of transporting critically ill patients even more sensitive.
Shortly after clearing the ICU, it was obvious that another generator wasn't on its way soon, and no one knew when power would be back up. Morgan decided to take the next step, and before the end of the day, the hospital was entirely free of patients.
"It was an easy decision to make, but very hard to do," he said. "To empty the hospital that I've spent three years of my life trying to fill and trying to save was heartbreaking."
William Gerrish, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health, said that state officials were on site during the evacuation to monitor the process, and that everything went smoothly. He said that this was the first time "in recent memory" that an entire hospital in Connecticut had to be evacuated.
Paul Wentworth, EMS coordinator for Johnson Memorial, said that all patients were carried by hand down either two or four flights of stairs. Most were brought down in "stair chairs." The orthopedic patients took the most finesse and were carried down in scoop stretchers.
Once down in the lobby, patients were readied one at a time for an ambulance. Which hospital they were assigned to depended on an up-to-the-minute list of availability, compiled after a flurry of phone calls. If there was room in the cardiac department at Hartford Hospital, for instance, that's where the heart patient went.
Hospital staff members contacted the patients' families when the evacuation began, sometime after 6 p.m. Because the lobby was filled with patients, hospital workers and emergency personnel, arriving family members had to wait outside the building. (Although nothing like a few hours earlier, winds were still strong in Stafford until late in the day.) Once a patient's ambulance was ready, the family was called in and told where the patient was being transported.
About 7:15 p.m., with the evacuation well underway, the power came back on. At once, nearly everyone turned to Morgan. He waved his hand, gesturing for everyone to continue the evacuation. After all, he said later, there was no guarantee that the power would stay on.
Workers continued to transport patients by stairs out of fear of getting stuck in an elevator. The last patient was out of the building by 10:10 p.m.
For most of the day, employees tried to track down a generator. A member of the hospital's board of directors even brought a small one in from his business. Before that one was hooked up, though, a larger one from H.O. Penn in Newington, which sells generators and construction equipment, was delivered.
It was then about 8 p.m. Trucks circled the generator, shining headlights for workers. By about 1 a.m., it was hooked up and the hospital again had a working backup generator.
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