Queen’s Medical Center seeks emergency power system
The state's major trauma center, the Queen's Medical Center, is asking the Legislature for $10 million to help pay for a $35 million emergency power generator system to keep the hospital functioning during a major disaster.
Twelve hours without power during the Oct. 15, 2006, Big Island earthquake reinforced the need for increased electrical backup at Queen's, says the medical center's president Art Ushijima.
"We view this as a public-private partnership ...," Ushijima said in an interview. "This is really about public safety, to serve the community."
He said no Hawaii hospital has 24-7 backup electrical capacity and Queen's feels a responsibility to the community to meet medical needs during an emergency.
Ushijima, president and chief executive officer of Queen's Health Systems, said the medical center assessed its electrical capacity some years ago and found that it wasn't adequate to operate for an extended time in a major emergency or disaster.
After the disastrous hurricanes in Florida and the Gulf Coast in 2005, especially Katrina, the American Hospital Association advised all hospitals to assess their electrical capacity, he said. "Major hospitals were totally incapacitated."
He said the October 2006 earthquake off the Big Island "was a blessing in disguise" because it further underscored the need for more backup power at Queen's.
Being without electrical power for 12 hours "really did impact our ability to provide trauma care," he said. "It was quite a day."
The hospital's five emergency generators, with a capacity of 2,067 kilowatts, enabled lights, ventilators and other critical care and life support functions to continue operating, he said.
However, there wasn't enough power for adequate air-conditioning, which prevented use of computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scanners and major operating room equipment, he said.
He said one trauma patient might have been diverted to Tripler Army Medical Center, which was the only one that could operate CT scanners.
The Legislature provided $2 million several years ago to improve the hospital's electrical capacity, which helped, Ushijima said. But assessments showed a more extensive backup electrical system is needed in the event of a disaster or emergency, he said.
"It's far more complicated than I envisioned," Ushijima said, explaining electrical engineers, architects and designers have been working on the project for years.
Initial plans for a $4 million to $5 million project were expanded at a projected cost of $35 million, not only for generators but improvements to the entire electrical structure, he said. Queen's hopes to raise $25 million itself.
"Obviously, it is a hefty amount," but the improved electrical system will enable the hospital to maintain full operations for seven to 10 days, he said.
The hospital proposes doubling its fuel capacity and adding four generators to provide up to 6,000 kilowatts in an emergency to keep the hospital's lighting, security, water supply, cooling and ventilation systems operating, as well as life-support and diagnostic equipment.
"On Oahu, we've been very fortunate," Ushijima pointed out. "We've not had the kind of major disaster where this kind of backup had to be called upon."
But he said he hopes government leaders recognize the importance of not waiting too long for the improvements proposed by Queen's, which it hopes to complete this calendar year.
"Hopefully we won't have another major earthquake like last time, or a hurricane," he said. "But across the country, emergency, disaster preparedness and the whole security issue is an increasing national priority."