Power restored at South Bay medical center

February 21, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
It was an emergency of a different kind at a hospital in San Jose Thursday because of a power outage and the fact that the emergency generators did not kick in for 20 minutes. It took two hours, but power has now been restored to the Santa Teresa Kaiser Medical Center and the surrounding neighborhood. The outages put patients in a potentially dangerous situation for a while.

A hospital without electricity can turn into a frightening situation, even worse when its backup generators don't kick in properly. Starting around 6:00 Thursday morning, the Kaiser Santa Teresa Medical Center in south San Jose was completely without its own power source for about 20 minutes.

"It's something that we're investigating. Our generators kicked in, but they kicked in with a bit of a delay, more than certainly than we had planned and they are designed to do," said Terry Austen, Senior Vice President, Area Manager for Kaiser Permanente.

But because of swift response from the San Jose Fire Department, within a few minutes of the outage the hospital was temporarily supplied with generator power from a specialized fire truck.

"We supplied power to them, lighting to the 4th through 6th floor," said San Jose Fire Captain Steve Alvarado.

Two incoming patients were diverted -- one for cardiac arrest, another going into labor.

Also, at the time, 16 patients were already in the emergency room and six others were in critical condition in the intensive care unit. Kaiser's staff prepared four of them to be sent to other hospitals if their conditions deteriorated. Ambulances lined up on standby to make any transports.

"We had approximately about 20 to 30 firefighters on scene going hands-on," said Captain Alvarado. "We assisted with lighting, we brought in our cardiac monitors and we worked along with the hospital staff, with the emergency room staff, providing care for the patients."

While Kaiser's own generators did kick in after 20 minutes, it took PG&E crews until just after 8:00 a.m. to restore power. During those two hours, the hospital's ER stayed in black mode, meaning it wasn't accepting any new patients, but it assures those already inside were well cared for.

PG&E is investigating the cause of the power outage and Kaiser says it's looking into why its emergency generators initially failed, which is especially concerning since the entire system was replaced just six months ago.