According to the joint commission, a healthcare accreditation organization in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., healthcare facilities are highly dependent on reliable sources of electrical power and need to both assess the risks of power failures and make plans to deal with such emergencies. Determining the requirements for a healthcare facility’s emergency power system is a major challenge for the project design team, including the electrical contractor.

Risks to a healthcare facility of a complete power outage—or even the experience of transients, spikes or surges—are multiple and include risk to patients’ care and to the facility’s operation.

“Without emergency power, the entire facility ceases to function in an outage, puts patients’ best possible outcomes at risk, and makes it impossible to run HVAC, lighting or computer network systems,” said Kevin Deitsch, site manager of facilities at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver. In addition, if the power in a healthcare facility is lost, patients’ medical and prescription records, test results, and the hospital’s financial and other data also can be lost.

“Maintaining power at all times means that the hospital can provide its services to patients most efficiently,” said Jerry Petric, PE, partner at Korda/Nemeth Engineering, Columbus, Ohio.

Having a source of power independent of the utility, generators in most cases, is the best way of ensuring a reliable source of power, Petric said.

“To ensure a power source in case of an outage or other issues, most facilities are requiring redundant generator systems,” he said. Generator systems also can be phased into multiple parts. St. Joseph Hospital ensures power reliability with oversized emergency generators.

“In case of a utility outage, our system can feed the entire hospital’s power needs, instead of only supplying 30 to 50 percent,” Deitsch said.

Other strategies for reducing risk include ensuring the generators are kept in working order through regular, scheduled maintenance and the development of a safety program.

“Once or twice a year, we simulate catastrophic events as a training exercise to ensure equipment reliability and peak personnel performance,” Deitsch said. St. Joseph also performs monthly tests of its generators and the critical and life safety automatic transfer switches (ATS) under load to verify that they will perform in case of an outage.

Trained staff for today’s more sophisticated remote monitoring and energy management systems also is essential.

“Staff has to be educated in energy management technology to ensure that they understand the reports that are generated and take the necessary actions to adjust the loads as required,” Petric said.

Along with a generator system, having an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system is essential for maintaining reliable, clean and conditioned power. UPS systems, however, are shifting from batteries toward battery-free flywheel technology, which requires less maintenance than batteries, is more environmentally friendly and reliable, requires minimal lubrication on an annual basis, and needs to be replaced only every seven or eight years. However, if the facility’s UPS system is battery-based, care must be given to regularly maintain the batteries and ensure that they are replaced before the end of their expected lifecycle.

Hospitals also require dual, parallel UPS systems for computer rooms to ensure constant, clean power and the safety of data, and there is a growing trend toward developing alternative power supplies for large, critical pieces of medical equipment, such as CT and MRI machines, that are completely separate from the main power-conditioning UPS and generator systems.

“These machines will completely shut down in an outage, or even if they experience a spike, surge or transient, and it can take up to 30 minutes to restart them, which costs the hospital money and inconveniences the patients,” Deitsch said.

Knowledgeable contractors

Contractors need to first understand that the hospital’s focus is on the patient and the patient’s safety.

“To fulfill a hospital’s unique emergency power needs, the contractor needs to understand and strictly follow the hospital’s policies concerning electricians’ activities on-site, scheduling, safety, methods and procedures, and health polices, such as infectious control,” Deitsch said.

Since most hospitals have varied policies and procedures, the learning curve for a new electrical contractor might be prohibitive to being awarded a contract. Therefore, Deitsch advises that before bidding on a hospital installation or maintenance contract, the electrical contractor should already be familiar with the facility’s policies to demonstrate that they have a working knowledge of its operations and will not take long to become proficient.

Communication with the owner also is essential when working in a healthcare environment, according to Petric. He said some of the work will have to be performed on premium time, and required outages must be carefully coordinated with hospital staff.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or darbremer@comcast.net.