731-bed California hospital dark for hours after generator failure in heat wave

Parts of a 731-bed hospital in San Jose, Calif., were left without power for approximately four hours Sept. 6 after its backup generators failed as the state withstood days of triple-digit temperatures. 

The precise number of buildings on Santa Clara Valley Medical Center campus left without power — including light and air conditioning — was not clear as of Sept. 7, according to The Mercury News. One surgeon told local ABC News station that the building that houses all emergency and trauma care was affected, with the emergency room on the first floor and surgical patients in the surgical and trauma ICU on the second floor. The third floor is for care for women, children and newborns with additional patients on the fourth floor. 

"As soon as I walked over to the ICUs, it was pitch black," the trauma surgeon, Tiffany Chao, MD, told ABC. "Everyone just had their iPhones out as little flashlights to try to check on people. Normally ICUs are full of, you know, just like beeping sounds and like monitor sounds — just like a lot of sounds like that. And it was just silent."

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center told The Mercury News no patients were put in life-threatening situations. Dr. Chao detailed patient transfers, which had to be completed in 30-minute timeframes.

"Our patients that are in the surgical ICU and the trauma ICU have zero lights, zero electricity,” Dr. Chao told ABC. “Patients on ventilators are on the ventilators running on batteries that only last about 30 minutes. Patients who have drips running for medicine, those will only last about an hour. So, we have about 30 minutes to evacuate the entire ICU to another part of the hospital before we're going to have to start ventilating patients by hand."

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center temporarily closed its emergency room to stroke, heart attack and trauma patients, as well as ambulance arrivals, The Mercury News reports. Seven patients were transferred to area hospitals and nine others were relocated elsewhere in the hospital to areas with power. The hospital suspended some elective surgeries on Sept. 7 due to hesitancy about the surrounding power grid's capabilities. 

The hospital lost power at approximately 6:30 p.m., and the generator outage occurred between approximately 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. Power was restored by Pacific Gas & Electric at approximately 1:40 a.m. Sept. 7. 

Nearby O'Connor Hospital, a 358-bed facility in San Jose, also lost power from Pacific Gas & Electric at the same time, although generator problems were not reported, according to The Mercury News.

The power outage and generator failure coincide with blistering heat in California, with San Jose breaking an all-time heat record Sept. 6 when the temperature reached 109 degrees. 

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