A strong collaborative effort has greatly improved safety for patients and staff at Royal University Hospital (RUH).

A major electrical upgrade was recently completed to the system at RUH, wrapping up over two years of intensive planning and coordination between Saskatoon Health Region’s technical teams and all departments within the facility.

“We replaced two of the three vital pieces of equipment for the main electrical system at RUH,” explained Renata Mag-atas Blair, director of Capital Planning and Project Management with Saskatoon Health Region.

The first crucial component that needed to be replaced was the switch gear that brings the main power feed from the University of Saskatchewan power grid to RUH, and allows the site to switch between different feeds. The second crucial component is the transfer switch for the main power supply. It’s this switch that, when the power goes out, allows the building to draw power from the back-up generators instead.

One of the three pieces of the huge transfer switch is lowered into the electrical vault via the new access hatch at Royal University Hospital.

One of the three pieces of the huge transfer switch is lowered into the electrical vault via the new access hatch at Royal University Hospital.

The aged pieces of equipment were dated back to 1976-77, and while they have a long life, the gear was no longer reliable. These unreliable pieces of equipment posed a significant risk to the Region.

“Though it was highly unlikely, the risk we were dealing with was that in every unplanned power outage, had that equipment failed, we wouldn’t have been able to connect to the emergency generators,” Mag-atas Blair explained. “That would have left the entire hospital without power.” This would mean no lights, phones or elevators, no equipment running to provide support to critically ill patients and no surgeries – definitely an unsafe situation.

To allow the equipment to be replaced, which was completed successfully in early April, a lot of other electrical work had to be done at the facility first, including rewiring and upgrading some of the electrical systems – some labour-intensive work. Along the way, the project team also addressed numerous smaller items in order to manage risks during planned power disruptions, such as providing uninterrupted power supply (UPS) units to critical equipment (ventilators, oscillators) and purchasing more portable suction units.

The project team completed detailed mapping updates of the electrical system, re-ran cabling and electrical lines, upgraded breaker panels, and upgraded the building’s tiebreaker system, which allows the emergency power system to be back-fed through the normal power system.  During a small shut down in the summer of 2014, a portion of the electrical distribution system failed and was damaged as a result. This section supported much of the critical infrastructure systems like suction, medical air, air flow and sump pumps. Those damaged portions of the electrical distribution system were replaced as well as other portions that carried similar risk of failure.

The work affected the majority of the RUH campus including the main tower, the 1955 building, Ellis Hall and Hantleman building.

“Now that this project is complete, we have not only eliminated a critical risk, but significantly increased the level of safety around the electrical structure at RUH, and ensured the safety of our patients, clients and staff,” said Luiza Kent-Smith, RUH site leader. “As the work progressed, the knowledge about the electrical structure at RUH grew and with it the safety for our RUH community.”

“These upgrades have also allowed us the opportunity to further our emergency preparedness planning in the Region and really collaborate in a complete team effort to get everything done we needed to do, and get all the right plans in place,” said Lori Frank, Director of Enterprise Risk Management, Saskatoon Health Region. “This focused planning put our emergency response for any kind of service disruption way ahead of what it was even just a short time ago. We are as prepared as we can be now for any service problems we might face in the future.”

This major upgrade was a significant undertaking requiring involvement of every department with operations in RUH, the technical team and Emergency Preparedness Planning.

“This was incredible example of coordination and teamwork,” said Kent-Smith. “It was amazing to see the clinical and technical teams working together on this project. The entire thing is testimony to the power of great team work. We were really all in it together.”

“The cooperation between the groups was fantastic. The technical team and the operations teams developed and adjusted plans in order to maintain building operations and safely deliver care to our patients,” Mag-atas Blair said. “And now RUH has plans in place so we know exactly how to deal with a black-out scenario. We have achieved a deeper level of risk management that improves safety for our patients and staff.”

The electrical upgrade by the numbers:

  • This was a high voltage project – at levels as high as 25,000 Volts. For comparison, the normal voltage inside your house is 120 Volts.
  • Approximately 2,800 lbs of cable was needed just for the transfer switch at RUH.
  • An average household of four in Saskatoon uses roughly 1 kw of power per day. RUH uses 3,000 – 4,000 times as much power in an average day.
  • The project required 20 large electrical shutdowns at RUH over the course of 2.5 years.