The loss of a full electricity supply at the San Fernando General Hospital last week should be a matter of significant concern to the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA). Electricity was lost at the facility, which housed almost 600 patients at the time, at 1pm on Thursday. Power was fully restored at 8.20 that night.
The hospital's staff was reported to have stopped serving meals to patients at 2 pm and raised concerns about working in darkness at the facility. In a statement on the matter, the SWRHA explained that the disruption was caused by "an issue" with the main electrical panel which required the installation of a substitute breaker panel.
There are significant issues arising from this situation. The facility was served by a standby generator and the SWRHA claimed that "all services continued as normal...to ensure that patient care was not compromised." By that, it seems, we are expected to understand that life-critical systems were being served by the backup generators.
Was this the case? Is the power grid planning within the hospital designed to route electricity from the generator to all the power points that serve critical systems? On a more practical basis, it also seems that there was inadequate planning for continuity of operations over an hours-long outage. How long is the hospital prepared to run without a direct electricity supply? Is the fuel supply for the generator adequate for a more serious emergency that might last for days instead of hours? Were there battery-operated emergency lighting systems installed to ensure that required care could be executed without difficulty? Staff limiting their care out of concern for their own safety suggests that perhaps that wasn't the case.
As difficult as that six-hour power loss was for the patients and staff of the hospital, it’s also a warning signal that demands attention. All major hospitals in TT should have adequate power protection and a capacity to run without direct supply for at least a full day with the capacity to deliver services to a normal patient profile. Beyond that, there must be triage systems in place for power and water failure that are fully understood by management and maintenance staff and adequately drilled to ensure that in the event of such failures, the plan is implemented quickly and effectively.
The SWRHA should, in the wake of this incident, schedule a full risk assessment of the San Fernando General Hospital to ensure that emergency systems are up to the standards required of a major medical centre. The Ministry of Health should take note and ensure that all its public healthcare centres are also properly prepared.