‘All our bases covered’: Detailed preparation and team work make Glace Bay Hospital power shutdown exercise a success

NSHA's emergency preparedness team is responsible for ensuring that we're prepared for and can recover from any situation that may threaten life, property, operations or the environment - including power shutdowns.
NSHA's emergency preparedness team is responsible for ensuring that we're prepared for and can recover from any situation that may threaten life, property, operations or the environment - including power shutdowns (File photo).

Power outages are part of life in Canada. We know what they are like and, most times, we're prepared with extra candles and flashlights.

But what happens when the power is completely out at a hospital? What impact does that have on patients, families, staff, physicians or anyone else in the hospital at the time?

When Lawrence MacSween learned there would need to be a system-wide power shutdown at Glace Bay Hospital in order to perform maintenance on the building’s electrical system, he admits he was a little anxious. MacSween is Nova Scotia Health Authority’s (NSHA) assistant manager of maintenance and operations in Eastern Zone, based at Glace Bay Hospital.

“I was a little overwhelmed with the idea of a shutdown,” he said candidly, quickly adding that he became “immensely confident with emergency preparedness” and Eastern Zone manager Bruce MacDonald during the planning stage.

Emergency preparedness is a small team within NSHA that brings specific knowledge and expertise to assist with planning. It prepares for a number of potential emergencies, such as a blizzard or other major weather event, a mass casualty, or, in the case of Glace Bay Hospital, a total power shutdown.

Emergency preparedness is responsible for ensuring that NSHA is prepared for, can respond to, and can recover from, any situation that may threaten life, property, operations or the environment.

Scheduled power shutdown

Without any power, basic systems are out of service. That means no operating elevators, no overhead paging system, no nurse call buttons, no fire panel and no refrigerators to keep precious blood and medicines cool, just to name a few.

That’s where detailed planning is vital to ensure there is as little disruption as possible to hospital services before, during and after a power shutdown.

About six week before last Oct. 20’s power shutdown, the planning began. The emergency preparedness team has extensive checklists to support the planning in detail, MacSween said.

“They had a very good grasp on the process,” he said. “Emergency preparedness was a huge part of the planning. There were always follow-ups and updates throughout the planning.”

MacDonald has been through a few power shutdowns and said it’s important to get input from all departments as early as possible, so that any specific concerns can be identified and addressed. It’s also important to reach out to community partners, such as the fire department.

"The earlier that we're involved, the earlier we can help develop plans to mitigate issues," MacDonald said. “We’re also focused on reducing impact to services. That’s a key focus. We want the work to be completed successfully, and at the same time, we try to come up with the best plan to achieve everyone’s goals, while maintaining a safe environment for everyone."

Hospital still provides services

And just because the power was off, it didn’t mean the hospital shut down.

In fact, services still needed to be provided to about 65 inpatients and their visitors that day. For example, there had to be a plan in place to provide meals during the day not only to patients in the hospital, but also to residents in the adjoining nursing home, Taigh Na Mara. Services such as the emergency department and diagnostic imaging were suspended for the day.

A command post was set up inside the hospital on the power shutdown day to ensure everything ran smoothly. This post became the hub of information flowing in and out. 

"There are always little things that we would need to check,” said MacDonald, such as ensuring extra security was available on site to escort visitors safely in stairwells.

In the end, the day passed without any major hiccups.

“With the amount of planning that went into it, we had all our bases covered,” MacSween said, adding that could not have been possible without the contributions and support both from within NSHA and from its external partners.