California's Blackouts Reveal Health Care's Fragile Power System

Nicole Wetsman | The Verge | October 28, 2019

Providing health care when electricity isn't a guarantee

...The United States health care system depends on electricity to function normally: it needs power to run everything from ventilators to electronic health records, to ferry patients via elevator through hospitals, refrigerate medications, and countless other tasks. But that PG&E planned outage wasn't the last. There were more outages last week, and they are likely to become more frequent as the changing climate keeps California dry and makes fires more likely. The number of weather-related power outages is also increasing as extreme weather events become more common. As a result, it's more critical than ever that health care facilities are prepared for a present and future where power isn't a guarantee.

California wildfire. Credit Tony Salas (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)"We're so used to having an uninterrupted supply of power," says Grete Porteous, an anesthesiologist and emergency medicine specialist at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. "It really blows people's minds to understand that all of this is very fragile."

In order to receive federal funding from Medicare and Medicaid, hospitals that provide critical care are required to have generators that can power their essential functions. The Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, calls them to have emergency plans in place and for generators to be tested regularly. However, despite precautions, generators can be vulnerable during disasters. At NYU Langone Medical Center, for example, key pieces of the backup system were in the basement, which flooded during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, knocking out all power to the hospital. "Just because you have generators doesn't mean they'll work, or work for long enough," Porteous says...