Health & Spirit

How PG&E's historic blackouts will put California's medical emergency planning to the test

Cathie Anderson, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Health & Fitness

They ensure arrangements are in place for transport, and they just might have to try and get services to new clients despite an emergency. Three new patients contacted Hospice Services of Lake County to start service this week, Lincoln said, and her staff is working to ensure they have what they need amid a blackout that will affect doctor's offices, pharmacists, medical equipment suppliers and hospitals.

Placer County's Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, for instance, is within the potential blackout zone, Romero said.

Sutter Health leaders said in a statement that they are in communication with PG&E regarding public safety power shutoff plans in the communities they serve, and they are putting procedures in place to minimize the impact and leverage the strength of their integrated network.

Sutter Auburn Faith and other hospitals are required by law to have backup generators to ensure they can provide essential services in the event of an outage, said Jan Emerson-Shea, the spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, and they may reschedule or move elective procedures to facilities that are not affected.

"Existing state and federal law requires all hospitals to have 72 hours of backup diesel generation, so when a power outage occurs, the backup generators are supposed to just immediately kick in," Emerson-Shea said. "If there are any surgical procedures under way, there should be very little impact involved. They're structured to kick in right away. The challenge with backup generation is that it was never designed to power the whole hospital ... .The backup generators don't power the chillers, the air-conditioning units and things."

They do drills to test that backup generation, she added, because it's part of overall disaster preparedness.


Nursing homes, now more commonly called skilled nursing facilities, must have a plan to operate for at least 96 hours on backup generators, said Jason Belden, the disaster preparedness manager at the California Association of Health Facilities.

"The generator is required to power emergency plugs throughout the building. It's also required to power fire protection systems like fire alarms, sprinklers, those kinds of things," he said. "The only real problem could be keeping the buildings cool if the temperature gets a little hot outside. That is the main source of concern for us."

Health care officials had a number of recommendations help prevent medical emergencies during power outages:

--Have food and water on hand. Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer. As they melt they, they could be a source of water.


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