Straight talk from industry experts: How hospitals ensure business resiliency in times of crisis

With an aging grid infrastructure, increasing severe weather events and wildfires, what are leading healthcare facilities doing to proactively plan for potential power outages that affect the safety of the community as well as the bottom line? To address this timely subject, an industry panel shared how they are managing power resiliency. The online roundtable event was hosted by Becker’s Hospital Review and sponsored by Enchanted Rock.

The panelists were: 

  • Mike Olson, CEO at Citizens Medical Center 
  • Abby Lipperman, Professional Electrical Engineer and Senior Infrastructure Project Manager at Children's Health 
  • Jason Schroer, Principal and Director of Health at HKS 
  • Allan Schurr, Chief Commercial Officer at Enchanted Rock, LLC

Five key takeaways from their discussion: 

  1. While it meets the requirements, life safety backup can only create unsafe conditions. The problem with not having full facility backup power, according to Olson, is that life safety requirements do not support other things necessary to run a hospital, such as hospital-wide lighting or air conditioning. When a power outage lasts for an extended period of time, it can create unsafe conditions for patients and staff. Citizens Medical Center was affected when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017 and the hospital had to evacuate hundreds of patients due to an extended outage and loss of water.

    Even hospitals not in areas vulnerable to natural disasters are at risk of power outages due to an aging grid and equipment failures. Without a full facility backup solution, the hospital goes into survival mode to conserve resources, according to Lipperman. "When that happens, the doctors at our hospital tell us that the seconds feel like minutes, and the minutes feel like hours. Everything slows down," Lipperman said.

  2. True business resiliency during a crisis requires a full facility backup. "A resilient hospital is one that is almost self-reliant," Olson said. He went on to explain that you have to "anticipate what could happen in the future" and "put in systems and processes" that allow the hospital to fully function under any circumstances. The panelists agreed that the only way for a hospital to be considered resilient is to have access to a reliable backup supply that covers the entire facility.

    According to Lipperman, Children's Health is also addressing resilience by looking at whole-building power backups. The health system performed a full emergency systems study to determine how to improve and found that full-facility backups are more cost effective and a better overall solution than traditional diesel generators. This was top of mind for event attendees as well, with an attendee poll showing 40% of respondents considering full-facility backup power for their facilities.

  3. Unlike diesel backup generators, natural gas-based microgrids are more reliable during extended outages which may last days to weeks. According to Schurr, natural gas offers a distinct advantage because it provides an indefinite supply through underground pipelines. Therefore, natural gas fueled generators may run for days to weeks without the need for refueling, enabling regular operations in the midst of an emergency. Lipperman added that microgrids can wrap around existing emergency diesel units to provide full power coverage and support an entire campus.

    Citizens' natural gas microgrids are maintained and operated by Enchanted Rock, so it reduces the cost to provide backup power for the entire hospital, said Olson. Citizens switched from the traditional diesel backup generators to full-facility backup after Hurricane Harvey to ensure patients would remain safe before future severe events.

  4. Microgrids are more affordable than most think. The benefits of becoming a resilient hospital can outweigh the cost of implementing the new microgrid technology according to Lipperman. "The savings that we will see from avoiding lost revenue in the event of an extended outage may more than cover the cost of the initial cost," Lipperman said. Olson seconded this idea when he explained that the interruption to Citizens Medical Center during Hurricane Harvey cost "multiple millions of dollars" in operational losses. If the hospital had been able to operate normally, it would not have lost that money. Microgrids provide an affordable resiliency solution, unlike diesel generators, which could cost millions of dollars, according to Olson. By partnering with Enchanted Rock, Citizens Medical Center became resilient "for a fraction of that cost." Schroer said it is important to evaluate the long-term returns switching to a microgrid could have for a hospital or health system. 

  5. Advanced microgrid technology can help improve local air quality and global emissions. "Hospitals are one of the largest consumers of energy, and by making smart decisions to be more green, promote sustainable practices, and utilize cleaner energy and cleaner emissions, we can be better stewards of our resources and improve overall environmental conditions," Lipperman said. Children's Health's mission statement is to make life better for children, and part of that responsibility is to look at the bigger picture and the impact the health system has on its community. Clean microgrid technology helps advance these sustainability goals. Schurr explained that traditional Tier 2 and more expensive Tier 4 diesel generators are not capable of being as clean as natural gas microgrids. "We should all be looking at ways to improve on local air quality as well as global emissions and support sustainability for healthcare," Schurr said. 

To watch the full roundtable, click here

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