JPMC struggles to survive without power for 13 hours

Published: September 13, 2011

An attendant fans a young patient as a paramedic pumps air into her lungs in Jinnah hospital where an electricity breakdown lasted over 12 hours. PHOTO: MOHAMMAD AZEEM/EXPRESS

Jinnah hospital was submerged in at least one foot of water on Tuesday. It was completely waterlogged at the back near the new emergency section. Nurses had to wade through the water to reach the CT scan room. The 1,200-bed hospital was also without electricity for about 12 hours. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL/EXPRESS
An attendant fans a young patient as a paramedic pumps air into her lungs in Jinnah hospital where an electricity breakdown lasted over 12 hours. PHOTO: MOHAMMAD AZEEM/EXPRESS
The four patients were receiving treatment at the JPMC ICU when their ventilators went ofline. PHOTO: FILE/Nefer Sehgal/Express
KARACHI: 

After 13 hours without power, four deaths of patients on ventilators and not a drop of diesel in their back-up generators, the administration of the city’s largest hospital, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), said that their critical functions are at stake.

The 1,200-bed hospital went without electricity from around 1am on Tuesday morning till about 2pm that afternoon. The power was restored when a substation that broke down at midnight was fixed by the Pakistan Public Works Department with the help of some private contractors.

During this time, four critical patients on ventilators in the neurosurgery intensive care unit (ICU) died. However, it is unclear whether their deaths were actually linked to the power outage. Neurosurgery chief Prof. Sattar Hashim said, “The patients [who died] were very critical when they were brought in. They include one child and three men, all who suffered severe head injuries.” Staff administered manual resuscitation via the ambu bag but, according to Sattar it cannot substitute a machine like a ventilator which is calibrated.

The question is how much of a difference uninterrupted access to the ventilator would have made. “There is always a chance [of recovery] but these patients were critical,” Sattar said. “I would say they had a 50-50 chance at recovery though. Of course, being without electricity did play a role but we cannot say anything with certainty.”

The neurosurgery ICU has space for 12 beds however it was packed with 16 patients on Monday night. All four ventilators were in use till the power outage.

JPMC has three 1,000 kVA generators to run life-saving functions but all of them were bone dry because the hospital is already in debt for a diesel bill.

A member of the hospital’s administration who did not want to be named, said, “We have about one million rupees in dues from the previous financial year which the federal government has to pay. However, since the hospital has been devolved, it has rung up another Rs1.3 million in diesel bills. This needs to be paid by the provincial health department.” According to this official, the provincial health secretary has been informed several times about the situation. The latest written communication took place on September 9.

It has been a struggle to keep afloat. “Last week we had a power outage which lasted about an hour and a half,” JPMC executive director Prof. Tasnim Ahsan told The Express Tribune. “Since it took place during the tail-end of OT hours, it caught some surgeons in the middle of their operation. We had a huge situation on our hands with surgeons refusing to operate unless we could guarantee backup power.”

If one generator runs for one hour, it needs a little over 1,000 litres of diesel which cost about Rs40,000. After the power outage, the health secretary supplied the hospital about 2,000 litres of petrol, good to last for about two hours if the hospital faces a similar outage.

Other problems were reported in the gynaecology ward where the JPMC blood bank could not be accessed due to the power outage. “The blood is stored in a freezer at a particular temperature,” one doctor explained. “Any rise in the temperature beyond a certain degree and all the blood in storage would no longer be usable.” Out of the fear of a few hundred bags going to waste, the blood bank was kept shut to maintain the temperature.

Aggravating the situation was the rainwater seeping its way into some of the wards on the first and second floors. The doctors mess and residential quarters went without power for about 20 hours.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Sep 13, 2011 - 7:52PM

    This is real serious matter, instead of putting the responsibility on each other hospital administration and KESC should try to find out real cause and make sure this never happens again.

    Here I would say as far as the patients in ICU are concerned, hospital should have had a backup system, so ICU never gets off power. Power cuts from Electricity supply companies is very common in our country, I am surprised and shocked to listen that a hospital is actually relying on power from electricity supply company.

    This incident speaks itself about how unimportant life of a common man become in this country, but people who are responsible for these things must take things seriously, who knows tomorrow something alike happens to them as well.

    I would rather hope the life of everyone is safe in this country and is given more importance.

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  • Sep 13, 2011 - 9:47PM

    whats wrong with pakistani people?

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  • hassan
    Sep 13, 2011 - 11:59PM

    @Omar:
    ahan,,,,,,sued 4 what???

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  • Mbn
    Sep 14, 2011 - 1:36AM

    Totally unbelievable.

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  • Moeen Haroon
    Oct 16, 2011 - 7:40PM

    Its a True Shame for Administration- People who cannot go any where else comes to JPMC – and leaving them in such a situation where there is no power supply to ICU equipments in unbelieveable-
    There is a private NGO who provided two small generators for critical operation and bearing all rent.
    That Private NGO who is giving hand in supplying small generator on Rent should be praised but more over supported- However corruption is the biggest cause of such problems -
    I prefer to help that NGO and write to Ministry of Health in pakistan for their responsibilities which should be fulfilled as they are run by peoples money -
    At Least I will have a say instead of watching and just feeling pity in my heart for those patients.

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