The good news is, over the past few years GBMC has installed three new emergency generators so that we do not go without power. The bad news is these generators do not backup everything. Our priorities for emergency power include: life support devices, emergency lighting, fire protection systems, patient communications devices, critical computer systems and clinical equipment. Our chilling system, which among other things cools the air in our buildings, is not connected to emergency power. So, when the power goes down, the chillers shut off. The fans continue to run as they must for ventilation and pressurization, but they are then pulling high humidity air from the outside into the building, thereby increasing the internal humidity.
Our operating rooms and our surgical instruments must stay within a narrow band of humidity to keep them sterile. During the summer, with high external humidity, the chillers keep the internal air within acceptable temperature and humidity levels. But when the chillers go down, the humidity can quickly get too high, and the rooms need to be re-cleaned and the surgical instruments need to be re-sterilized. There is a renewed emphasis on humidity and temperature control by CMS/Joint Commission to prevent healthcare acquired infections. We can clean the operating rooms fairly quickly but it takes many hours to re-sterilize all surgical instruments. For this reason, GBMC has had to delay or cancel many operations during these events.
I want to thank all of our staff who have risen to the occasion over the past few weeks to help us get things back in order. Our operating room nurses, technicians, central sterile staff, anesthesiologists, administrators and environmental service workers have done an outstanding job under very difficult conditions. I want to also thank our surgeons for understanding the problem and for having done everything to get their patients what they need.
Our management team has realized that we did not have the emergency designs in place to communicate well with our patients, our surgeons, and the rest of the GBMC team. I apologize to all for this. Over the past few weeks we have learned from each event and we have developed better systems of communication, but we need to do even better - and we will.
As for preventing future events, we are working with vendors to see if we can install emergency air conditioners that we can connect to the generators to better protect our sterile supplies. We are also exploring back-up systems and emergency power connections for our Sterilizers. The long range fix is to connect the chillers to the emergency power. This is a very expensive proposition and will take a significant amount of time, but we are presently studying this with our engineers.
GBMC is an excellent healthcare system and we will grow stronger as we learn from these events and make the required changes. Thanks to everyone who is helping us.