Hospital power outage in weeks away, as patients ‘slightly upset’

An open electrical box in front of the hospital with a hard hat on it

Patients at one of Adelaide’s largest hospitals have expressed frustration at the impact of the disruptive power outage, and one patient said he had to wait for five hours before being told his elective surgery had been cancelled.

An independent review has been ordered into transformer failure at Flinders Medical Centre, which switched to generator electricity after a power cut on Tuesday afternoon, which required some patients to be transferred to a private facility at the same location.

Health authorities also confirmed today that the hospital, located south of Adelaide, was among several locations across the state that were subject to yesterday’s bomb threat – but they insisted it had “nothing to do with” the power outage.

Flinders patient Moses Max Fui, who is confined to a wheelchair after breaking his ankle, was in hospital when the power went out.

He said, considering the pain in his ankle, he usually used the elevator at the hospital, but yesterday he had to use the stairs.

“[There was] a little panic, the people are a little annoyed, the operation has to be canceled and so on,” he said.

“The power outage was a bit of a shock but the nurses and staff handled it pretty well.”

Another patient, Corinne Gazio, said she arrived at the hospital at 10:30 am for minor elective surgery.

Power has been restored in most hospitals after yesterday’s blackout.(ABC News: James Wakelin )

He said he was in the waiting room when the lights went out around 2pm – but it wasn’t until around 3.30pm that he and another patient were told that the operation was cancelled.

“I waited about five hours for the operation,” he said.

“Suddenly there was no light at all. We weren’t completely dark because there was a window… and soon a nurse came in with a large torch she put in the middle of the waiting room.

“It’s pitch dark in front of the elevator. People are wondering how to get out, in their wheelchairs.”

Ms Gazio said he had taken time off and stopped work to have the surgery, which he said was scheduled months ago.

“Mentally, you are ready – you prepare yourself to have surgery and then nothing happens,” he said.

There were “no reports” of patient injuries, the hospital said

Federation of Nursing and Midwifery SA CEO Elizabeth Dabars said the impact of the power outages continued to present a “significant challenge” for nurses already working with an “aging infrastructure”.

“The system is no longer working the way it used to, so all computer-based systems have basically stopped operating which means our members are going back to using pen and paper,” he said.

“It is clearly inappropriate, for example, to start operations when we are not sure about the stability of the electrical system, so from our point of view this has a very big impact.

“We’ve had power outages in the past, but usually these were short-lived and resolved fairly quickly, but in this case we didn’t know a timeframe for resolution.”

A woman wearing a blue blazer looks at the camera

Elizabeth Dabars says nurses have gone back to using the pen and paper method.(ABC News: Elizabeth Dabars )

SA Health’s South Adelaide Local Health Network (SALHN) chief executive, Kerrie Freeman, said power had been restored throughout the hospital – including the intensive care unit, which ran on generator electricity throughout the night.

“I have today commissioned an independent review to find out what happened to our transformer so we will get an in-depth analysis of what went wrong,” said Dr Freeman.

“I want a full report with an explanation of what happened and what we need to do to protect our future transformers and power supplies.”

Dr Freeman said a generator started within about two seconds of the power cut, but he confirmed that several mothers were in labor at that time.

“That can all be completed as usual, a safe outcome for the mother and baby,” he said.

“We have not received any reports of injury to the patient.”

The hospital was closed to visitors yesterday while technicians worked to restore power.

Dr Freeman said the hospital also faced two unrelated issues yesterday, including a minor glitch to its electronic record system.

“Like a number of other agencies, we also received a bomb threat, and we took action and followed advice from SAPOL in that regard,” he said.

“We remained on alert, following the advice from SAPOL, and following that advice we were able to contain the response.”

Earlier today, Dr Freeman told Stacey Lee and Nikolai Beilharz of ABC Radio Adelaide that 10 ICU patients had been transferred to Flinders Private, which is located “down the corridor” from the public hospital.

“It’s in the same building, so it’s not as dramatic as the ambulance ride between hospitals,” he said.

A woman in a hard hat addresses the media.

Kerrie Freeman has ordered an investigation into the cause of the outage.(ABC News)

He said, until this morning, there were 21 patients who were still being treated at the Flinders Medical Center ICU.

Dr Freeman said he had been told it would take several weeks to replace the transformer, but that another backup generator would be installed today.

“We have no reason to think that the generator is going to go down, but of course when you are in an ICU situation we have to really believe that there is a second and even a third option,” he said.

Dr Freeman said the hospital was “back to business as usual” at around 9.30pm yesterday and the ongoing electrical work would not affect patient care.

The power outage in Flinders comes at a time when South Australia’s health system is struggling, and comes after bad reports of a bungled cochlear implant program at the Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and an increase in the number of ambulances.

This is not the first time in recent months that power problems have caused disruption to the country’s health system.

Earlier this year, a power failure caused Sunrise’s electronic medical record system to malfunction in a hospital in South Australia.

A power outage at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) during a major storm in 2020 occurred while a patient was undergoing surgery, so doctors in one case had to keep working with the help of a cell phone light.

A few months later, a bat caused a power outage that left the baby specialist unit at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital without power for nearly an hour.

The two operations were interrupted when a software failure left some RAH without power two years earlier.

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