Every Island Health site in Cowichan lost electricity when the big storm hit on Dec. 20, but generators — and teamwork — kept everything running.
“At one time we had 11 hospital sites on generator power,” Island Health facilities and maintenance director Dean Anderson noted. “We test our generators weekly to ensure they run…to make sure all of our systems are functioning. All of that testing and maintenance pays off in a case like this.”
The director also said maintenance staff up and down the Island and from east to west came in from holidays and days off to work rotating 12-hour shifts to make sure the generators were constantly being monitored and were running smoothly.
Maintenance crews also worked non-stop to keep the lots free from debris to make sure ambulances and patients were safe entering the facilities.
“We were busy that’s for sure,” Anderson said.
At Cowichan District Hospital there was non-stop action with many people heading to the hospital for a variety of reasons.
The community health team that usually works out of the round building downtown had no power and had to work out of CDH. The usually busy emergency department was teeming with people. Aside from the standard patients, many arrived in the hope of keeping warm along with others who needed medication that was fuelled by electrical machines, like dialysis.
“I’d say the Cowichan Valley area was the hardest hit of all our areas,” Anderson said. “I can’t say enough good things about our maintenance staff. They’re very passionate and caring and worked so hard to keep everything up and running and everyone at all of our sites safe.”
CDH operations manager Jeffrey Carder said “staff witnessed trees falling across phone and power lines, transformers exploding and broken branches coming down everywhere. It’s not every day you get to clear branches with a snow plow.”
Carder also noted that teamwork was key to keeping things running.
“Everyone who was available stepped up to ensure our sites continued to operate under these adverse conditions,” he said. “The generators ensure essential services are maintained, but some equipment (by design) is not provided with emergency power, [so] staff worked together to overcome some of these issues to make sure things ran as smoothly as possible given the situation.”
Of the sites in the Cowichan Valley, Chemainus Health Centre was the longest out — three and a half days. That site’s generators consumed 1,350 litres of fuel to generate electricity for the facility.
Carder said that keeping the fuel supply up “proved a challenge at one point given the road conditions in the Chemainus area.”
Access to Chemainus by road was extremely limited for several days due to downed trees and power lines.
The Ladysmith Community Health Centre was out for 18 hours. Cowichan Lodge was out for 14 hours. CDH was out for 12 hours. Cairnsmore place was out for 13 hours.
Thanks to a direct line to a BC Hydro partner, hospital officials were not kept in the dark about repair timelines.
“Everyone pitched in and made sure those under Island Health’s care were safe during a very stressful and eventful situation. It all came down to dedication and team work,” Carder said.