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Johannesburg - Just hours after plans were announced to improve health infrastructure in hospitals, a four-hour-long power outage hit one of Joburg’s biggest hospitals.
Generators failed to kick in at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital during a power failure, prompting the staff at the hospital’s Block 5 section to bring in reinforcements and to act quickly to save lives.
According to DA MPL Jack Bloom, two of the five main generators failed to operate when electricity was cut at about 5pm on Wednesday.
“There was no back-up power at the main intensive care unit for four hours until about 9pm. Doctors were called in from home to assist, and ICU patients were moved to general wards where there was light,” he said.
One of the doctors called in from home spoke to The Star on condition of anonymity in fear of reprisals. She said that when she arrived, there was a total blackout at the ICU ward.
“Every one of the 12 beds was occupied, seven of the patients were on ventilators and others were on various forms of support. Nurses had to use their cellphones to get some light and manage the situation… They couldn’t find medications because there was no light… There was no disaster protocol in place, we had to squeeze patients into other wards, and the monitors were off,” the doctor said on Thursday.
Gauteng Infrastructure Development MEC Qedani Mahlangu confidently said during her briefing that in the event of a power outage in hospitals such as Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic, generators would kick in without fail.
This is after generators were installed in 12 central provincial health-care clinics at a cost of R4 million.
However, the MEC added: “Challenges occasionally arise elsewhere in the power supply chain, for instance with the electrical reticulation at Charlotte Maxeke, as well as at Bara, but these do not originate from generators failing to start”.
Mahlangu’s spokesman, Thulasizwe Simelane, said the batteries in the hospital’s change-over switches had malfunctioned, causing a chain reaction that resulted in the generators not kicking in.
“Battery-powered change-over switches transfer the hospital from grid electricity to a back-up system such as a generator,” he said.
Simelane said they would investigate the causes of the grid outage, and technical staff from the department would continue working to find out what the fault with the batteries was.
But, for the doctors who had to work with speed and ingenuity to make sure the patients were kept alive and safe, this outage was a close call that should not have happened.
“Every year this (power outage) happens… we’ve been told that the generators at Charlotte Maxeke have been serviced, but the fact of the matter is that they aren’t,” the doctor said. “The public is not safe… I’d be afraid to admit my loved one in our ICUs.”