California hospitals rely on generators during PG&E power outages

Hundreds of California hospitals have been running on generators and hundreds of thousands of residents have been without electricity after power companies temporarily shut off services Wednesday to prevent fires during windy weather.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said 248 hospitals were located in areas where power was turned off, so they likely lost power and relied on generators. More than 200,000 customers were affected by the outage, according to PG&E data, although crews were working to restore services.

Power companies have undertaken the precautionary outages in recent years to prevent high winds from causing wildfire hazards like downed power lines. PG&E is paying out billions of dollars in damages stemming from California’s deadly Camp Fire in November 2018, the Associated Press reported.

Hospital leaders said their operations were largely unaffected by the outages, which began early Wednesday and some will last five days. Hospitals are required under state and federal law to have backup diesel generators, said Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association.

“Those literally kick in within seconds,” she said. “As far as we are aware, we have not heard there has been any significant impact on care.”

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said 248 hospitals were located in areas where power was turned off, so they likely lost power and relied on generators.

In Northern California, Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa hospital and two medical office buildings temporarily lost power early Wednesday. It was restored late Thursday afternoon, spokesman Marc Brown said. During that time, elective surgeries were rescheduled, but operations were otherwise normal.

In Southern California, two of Kaiser’s medical office buildings, in Sylmar and Porter Ranch, were closed due to smoke from a nearby wildfire, Brown said. Appointments were rescheduled.

Sutter spokeswoman Erin Shaw wrote in an email that as of Friday, PG&E had restored power to its hospitals and most care centers in areas impacted by power shut-offs. She said patients are being encouraged to contact their care teams about previously scheduled appointments.

Dignity Health’s impacted hospitals have functioned at full capacity thanks to generators, a spokesman wrote in an email. Elective surgeries were rescheduled. The outages also affected outpatient services at a handful of its clinics.

“Through all of this, the doors of our acute care facilities have remained open and patient safety has continued to be our top priority while we manage through this,” he said.

At the height of the outage, 738,000 PG&E customers in Northern California had lost power, a number that dropped by about two-thirds as of Friday, company spokesman Jeff Smith said. Before power can be restored, PG&E’s inspectors have to go through every inch of affected power line to ensure nothing was damaged, which takes time, he said.

“That’s an important thing,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of flipping a switch after the dangerous weather passes through.”

Southern California Edison had shut off power to about 21,000 customers as of Friday. The company’s first precautionary outage to prevent wildfires was in 2017, when it turned off power to about 5,000 customers, said spokeswoman Caroline Aoyagi-Stom. A handful of shut-offs also took place last year, affecting less than 150 customers. Smith said PG&E’s first safety power shut-off took place last year and was much smaller in scale.

Both PG&E and Edison give hospitals 48 hour’s notice before shutting off power.

About 33,000 of the PG&E customers who lost power are enrolled in the company’s program for people who rely on medical devices that require electricity, such as respirators, hemodialysis machines and iron lungs. The company opened a number of resource centers where people could charge devices, among other services.