CEO Messages

Power Outages Only Adding to This Year’s Challenges

Council Thoughts

In a year that has already brought so many challenges, the last thing we needed were the lights to go out ­ — without any warning. However, that’s what some of your hospitals encountered during the recent heat wave. Recognizing that this situation likely remains top of mind for many of you, especially as we approach the public safety power shutoff (PSPS) season, we wanted to update you on where things stand with PG&E.

We know the extraordinary demands that COVID-19 is already putting on your hospitals, and despite being exempted from rolling outages, your hospitals found themselves blindsided. Much conversation with PG&E has resulted in a better understanding of the situation and reinforcement that, moving forward, it’s just not acceptable for a hospital’s power to be shut off without any notice. As a result, discussions continue between Hospital Council and PG&E on a near daily basis. We have heard from many of you over the past weeks and encourage you to continue to share impacts or other input when possible. Hearing directly from you adds to our knowledge and strengthens our advocacy on your behalf. 

Looking ahead, we remain optimistic that the planning and preparation Hospital Council, CHA, and PG&E have done over the past year will significantly reduce the impact of PSPS on hospitals, should they occur. These PSPS events — which are separate from the rolling blackouts — are conducted to minimize the risk of wildfire if winds and other weather conditions cause damage to the power lines that feed PG&E customers. In most cases, it affects the power lines that feed your hospital directly and, in many others, it is the local power company that serves your hospital using PG&E transmission lines.

QuestionRotating OutagesPSPS
Are hospitals impacted?Hospitals should NOT be impacted by rotating outages.  However, this can change in emergency situations with little notice.Hospitals MAY be impacted.  PG&E has plans in place for 2020 to limit hospital risk.  That said, all hospitals should have a plan to address extended power outages for such things as earthquakes, wildfires, and when PSPS events do not go as planned.
Is there advance notice?Since hospitals are exempt, notice should not be necessary. The recent outages came with only 10 minutes’ notice, causing some hospitals to lose power  – protocols have since been updated.As public safety partners, hospitals are provided with first warning of a pending PSPS event (ideally 72 hours) based on weather forecasts and observations. PG&E will provide estimates of the outage window, restoration time, and locations impacted. Advance warnings are meant as a “heads up” to the possibility of a PSPS, so updates may include cancelation of a planned PSPS if there is a favorable change in weather, usually a reduction in high winds. 
Who is responsible?The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) makes the determination if investor-owned utilities (PG&E, SoCal Edison, SDGE) must reduce load on the electrical grid. Each utility then determines how to meet the load reduction and selects areas to power down.PG&E determines PSPS times and locations based on weather and real-time observations. PG&E has committed to working with hospitals to avoid or minimize power outages.
When will they occur?When energy demand exceeds available supply in California as determined by CAISO. For instance, this might occur when a heat wave is felt across much of California, Arizona, and other states simultaneously.When weather forecasts predict conditions (red flag warning, low humidity, dry fuel, real-time observations, and  wind) present a public safety risk. The peak times are June and September-November.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to sign up here for this Thursday’s 90-minute webinar starting at 1:30 p.m. (PT) — PSPS Update: What Hospitals Served by PG&E Need to Know. This webinar, which will be hosted by Hospital Council and CHA, is a great opportunity to hear directly from PG&E representatives about the upcoming PSPS season and the work underway to minimize PSPS outages for hospitals.  Webinar content will be expanded to include information on extreme heat events and rolling outages, including what is being done to mitigate impacts on California hospitals now and for future events. If you already registered prior to the webinar’s rescheduling, your registration information will be automatically carried over, as will links to the participant information page.

While wildfires, power outages, and a heat wave have wreaked havoc throughout the state, COVID-19 continues its unrelenting grasp on Californians, and we continue to advocate on our hospitals’ behalf as the need arises. Such is the case in Santa Clara County, where a June 10 health order now requires health care providers to test certain groups, including people with symptoms or who are high-risk. As a result of some compromise, providers have been granted more individualized standards for fulfilling the testing requirement. This is especially important, given that an inability to test often comes down to the availability of supplies like pipettes, reagents, and swabs.