During crisis, critical power plan is a must for the smaller medical facility

By Martha Worthy / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
May 1, 2020

Just one of the many factors that makes the COVID-19 crisis unique when compared to a natural disaster is its global reach. When a hurricane or tornado hits in one part of the country or world, resources – food, water, equipment and relief and medical workers - can be diverted to the area of crisis. But today, those resources can’t be diverted because they’re either needed where they’re at or they’re not getting produced/allocated at all.

With many factories expected to be closed into May and the transport of goods also being delayed, experts can’t definitively say how long COVID-19 will impact our global supply chain. But most all agree that some technology and machinery will take three times as long to arrive from Asian manufacturers. And not just for items you hear about on the news (respirators, test kits, face masks). Equipment that ensures the distribution of power to your clinic, lab or imaging technology is also expected to take months longer to become available.

So, what does all this mean? The COVID-19 pandemic won’t cause your community to lose power. But if the equipment that ensures power for your critical technology breaks, you may not be able to fix it. With some or all of your clinic offline for days or weeks, you could face loss of revenue and employee layoffs – just like all the other small businesses in your area. 

What kind of equipment are we talking about?

Specifically, we’re talking about an Uninterrupted Power Supply, or UPS. A UPS is essentially a system of batteries that maintains power to critical systems and equipment that can’t withstand a power interruption. A UPS protects equipment from events such as power loss, voltage variations, frequency variations and transient disturbances.

Large hospitals not only have a UPS in place for their critical systems and sensitive equipment, but they usually also have backup measures in place, such as a redundant UPS and/or generator. This kind of redundancy, as well as routine maintenance, is usually built into the UPS purchase package. In our experience, this is not the case in smaller, independent clinics.

Why not? It’s because a) smaller clinics don’t have the purchase power that a big hospital network with hundreds of MRI machines or CT scanners has. And b) in smaller clinics, an office manager, doctor or medical assistant is also often in charge of ensuring the uptime of critical equipment. With no IT or facility manager in place, they simply don’t know what they don’t know.  

How much is downtime worth to you?

Earlier this year, we were contacted by an independent medical imaging center. They had an end-of-life UPS system that had seen no maintenance in recent years. It was “out of sight, out of mind.” They knew it needed to be replaced and they knew it needed to be maintained. Not surprisingly, it went out, making two rooms with endoscopy and ultrasound equipment unusable. Roughly 20 procedures per day, per room had to be cancelled. The clinic conservatively estimates it lost between $30-$50k each day, plus the costs associated with staff downtime.

A routine maintenance plan would have easily prevented this loss of patient care and money. Not only would ongoing maintenance extend the equipment’s life, but the clinic would have known well in advance that the system’s end was finally near. A thoughtful replacement plan could have been created – one that addressed current and future power needs, was both cost- and energy-efficient, and could be installed with little-to-no interruption of service.

When Maintenance Isn’t Enough

There’s no question that routine maintenance is a must for ensuring the uptime of your critical equipment and systems. But it isn’t a guarantee. Last month a hospice facility in upstate New York was performing routine maintenance (replacing the capacitors) on their UPS system. Smart, and proactive, right? Yes, except the service company had brought the wrong replacement parts and the UPS couldn’t be put back together. With no UPS redundancy and no emergency power plan in place, the entire facility had to be evacuated until new parts could be ordered and installed.

In the best of times, a hospice evacuation comes with risks. But during our current medical crisis, you’d not only endanger residents’ lives, you’d also put extreme strain on other medical facilities already beyond capacity. This situation also could have easily been prevented by having a backup generator. 

Make time to plan

This pandemic has made us all rethink what constitutes an emergency, and hopefully you’re also now thinking about the importance of backup power for your facility‘s sensitive technology. When planning for emergency power, ideally ALL the following steps should be considered.

1. Get routine maintenance done on your system. Your UPS should be visually inspected quarterly and cleaned semiannually. A full scan and operational test of the system and its batteries should be performed each year.

2. Have a redundant UPS system in place. Because it’s always charged, your backup UPS will have the capacity to allow important equipment to remain operational in the event your primary UPS goes down.

It’s important that your redundant power supplies operate on two separate electrical circuits. This allows your critical equipment to run even during a circuit trip. You’re also able to perform maintenance on the electrical equipment without having to take a device offline.

3. If possible, have a backup generator onsite. Sometimes your building’s code or electricity distribution may prevent you from having this. If you can have a permanent backup generator, it should also be inspected and tested quarterly as part of a maintenance agreement.

4. Have a contract in place for a rental UPS or generator. Even if you have a redundant UPS and/or emergency generator onsite, you should still have a rental agreement with a local vendor. Think of it as an insurance policy. You may never need it… but better safe than sorry.

For those of you with other responsibilities besides IT or facility management, this might sound overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. Any critical power service company worth its salt can take most, if not all this burden off your plate.

The company you partner with should take a comprehensive approach when assisting you with your critical power needs. In addition to assessing the health of your equipment and reviewing your emergency power plan (or creating one if necessary), they should implement solutions that consider building or city codes, physical space issues, electrical distribution, etc. They should present solutions that are cost- and energy-efficient. And any recommendation should be installed with the least possible amount of down time.

Finally, they should be thinking about all the power your facility needs today, tomorrow AND in an emergency – so you don’t have to. Now, more than ever, you have lots to worry about. Take critical power off your list by letting an expert think about it for you.

Martha Worthy is an Account Manager and Critical Power Service Specialist for CEG. Visit www.criticaleg.com for more information.

 

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