How To Manage Emergency Power in Healthcare Facilities
New technology is offering new options, but familiar challenges, such as good record-keeping and reporting, remain.
Managing emergency power supply systems creates unique challenges for healthcare facility managers. Because loss of power poses significant risks to patient health and safety, the emergency power systems in hospitals must comply with a range of requirements that don’t apply to other types of facilities. At the same time, healthcare organizations have to balance investments in facility infrastructure like emergency power systems against expenditures directly tied to patient care, like new medical equipment.
Two developments give facility managers new options for ensuring that the emergency power system addresses both compliance and financial considerations. These are monitoring generators with wireless cellular systems with automatic reporting features, and third-party plant ownership providing an energy-as-a-service arrangement.
‘One point of failure’
Record-keeping and required reporting are still two of the top issues facing healthcare facility managers with responsibility for emergency power management, according to a survey conducted by MGI Systems, Inc. Developments in technology — specifically, the availability of wireless systems — can help address those challenges.
Manual record-keeping can sometimes be inaccurate because mechanical and electrical systems are spot checked rather than continuously monitored and out-of-parameter readings may be missed. In addition, the exact start, load, and stop time can be subject to debate. Lack of details can be the cause of unsatisfactory surveys, and may also lead to legal entanglements if a patient or staff member is compromised because of a loss of power.
Benjamin Iseman, an attorney in Winter Park, Fla., explains how he would proceed on behalf of a client filing suit against a hospital that had lost power: “I would ask for their protocols and then I would depose everyone I could find looking for examples where the protocols were not followed. Then I’d hire an expert to pick apart their protocols for any deficiencies. I only need one point of failure if I’m the plaintiff’s attorney; either bad protocols or failure to follow those protocols is enough.” Also any hospital protocol that goes against the equipment manufacturer recommendations is another point of potential liability, says Iseman.
Potential liability isn’t the only reason that hospital facility managers should be concerned about the quality of data recorded for an emergency power system. In essence, the new final rule at 42 CFR 482.15, which details the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requirements for Conditions of Participation (COP) regarding emergency preparedness, gives more latitude to operations personnel in running their hospital’s specific departments. However, this places additional responsibility directly onto their shoulders by asking for substantial proof they are following best practice protocols.
Unfortunately, not all emergency protocols can be expected to cover “all hazards,” which means some flexibility, or maybe a Plan B, should be included in the protocol. For example, what you have to do in case of a flood is different than what would be needed if the problem is an internal power outage. A flood or tornado will probably knock out the entire grid, leaving the hospital to “defend in place” without power to all circuits for an extended period, whereas the loss of a transformer supplying power to just one wing will require a different emergency response.
Because of the variety of hazards a hospital faces, flexible protocols based on reliable information provided by smart devices are of paramount importance.