Sutter, Kaiser among hospitals hit by Northern California blackouts

By | October 12, 2019

Dive Brief:

  • The blackouts created by the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) utility in Northern California have led to numerous hospitals relying on their backup generators for power.
  • Many of the hospitals have had to cancel elective procedures.
  • No hospital has had to close down, but some clinics have had to cut back on operations.

Dive Insight:

Hospitals across the country are required to prepare for emergencies such as natural disasters. They are expected to develop preparedness plans and conduct drills and exercises to test those plans. These revamped laws came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a deadly storm that hit New Orleans in 2005 and demonstrated how ill-prepared some hospitals were for a storm of that magnitude.    

Downed power lines owned by PG&E, the massive utility that provides much of California’s power north of Los Angeles, were blamed for last year’s massive Camp Fire, which all but destroyed the city of Paradise and killed 85 people. Litigation related to the fire prompted the utility to file for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.

As a result of the litigation, PG&E has taken an extremely cautious route as California heads into its autumn fire season. The utility decided that cutting power during periods of high winds would be the best way to avoid a repeat of last year’s conflagration.

However, when PG&E began powering down its grid this week, it provided little advance notice. Altogether, the blackouts affected 34 of California’s 58 counties by late Wednesday, including parts of Sacramento and the Bay Area. The University of California at Berkeley had to cancel classes and bring in generators to protect research materials.

Hospitals were also affected. Several inpatient facilities on Wednesday and Thursday were forced to use backup generators (which are required by both state and federal law) to continue operating. Many had to reschedule elective procedures. Several outpatient clinics were temporarily closed.

Sutter Health, which operates hospitals in both the Bay Area and Sacramento, appeared to be the most affected. Spokesperson Amy Thoma Tan said four of its hospitals – in Amador, Auburn, Santa Rosa and Lakeside – had to resort to backup power, while an unknown number of procedures had to be rescheduled.

Hospitals in Napa and Lake County operated by Adventist Health also relied on backup power, while several elective procedures were postponed, according to company spokesperson Jill Kinney. Adventist also temporarily closed outpatient facilities in Yuba and Sutter Counties, she added.

Kaiser Permanente, which operates more than 30 hospitals in California, was also affected in Santa Rosa, where its hospital and two clinics wound up relying on generators. An outpatient clinic in Calistoga in Napa County was temporarily closed. Six patients had to have appointments rescheduled, according to Kaiser spokesperson Marc Brown.

For now, the hospital systems affected by the blackouts appear to be taking it in stride. Sutter issued a statement noting that its “hospitals and care centers are implementing various preparedness protocols in response to PG&E’s public safety power shutoffs to minimize potential impacts in the communities we serve and leverage the strength of our integrated network to keep our patients connected to care.”

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