Power outage results in surgeries by flashlight
August 8, 2018
MONTREAL – A blackout that lasted nearly one hour at the Montreal University Health Centre affected surgical suites and resulted in surgeons using flashlights to finish operations that were already in progress. The blackout occurred in late July.
According to the Montreal Gazette, the flashlights were easy to find, because for the first six months after the superhospital opened in 2015, the McGill University Health Centre stocked the operating rooms with plenty of flashlights and batteries in case of feared blackouts.
Since its opening, the large facility has confronted a number of electrical problems, from faulty wiring in the ORs to power limitations that require the MUHC to shut off the air conditioning in the packed cafeteria and atrium during heat waves.
The darkened ORs quickly turned hot and stifling on July 23 as the power was also cut to the dedicated ventilation systems.
Following that blackout, MUHC officials launched a joint investigation with the private consortium in charge of maintaining the superhospital to determine the possible causes of the outage beyond a defective back-up generator.
Richard Fahey, director of human resources, communications and legal affairs at the MUHC, said that “because one of the 11 generators did not function properly, all adult ORs were without full power during 51 minutes.
“That being said, anesthesia machines and other equipment that had battery backup were operational,” he added. “Only two adult patients were in the ORs at the time of the power outage. All patients undergoing procedures during the power outage were informed that their procedures were completed with limited resources under the skillful hands of MUHC surgeons.”
According to the Gazette, there is mounting anger among senior MUHC managers toward Groupe immobilier de santé McGill (GISM), the private consortium headed by engineering firm SNC-Lavalin that installed the electrical system during the construction of the superhospital.
The MUHC public-private partnership was supposed to prevent any cost overruns, but the provincial government in January paid GISM $108 million, on top of the $1.3-billion contract, to settle a lawsuit.
The government settled with the consortium despite previous comments by Health Minister Gaétan Barrette that “this lawsuit is not based on justifiable grounds.”
The Montreal Gazette has also learned that employees at the Glen site have been complaining of headaches because the air exchanges are turned off overnight to save on electricity costs, leaving stale air throughout the complex of buildings. The MUHC is under tremendous pressure by Barrette to cut its deficit despite increasing clinical volumes.