Ed Harrich is the director of surgical services at Pullman Regional Hospital in Pullman, Washington. Reliable electric power—without interruption—is absolutely essential to many of the life-saving functions he and his team perform on a daily basis.
The hospital is backed by a continuous supply of electric power, coursing across an intricate network of generators, wires, transformers, and substations. This network is the electric power grid. The devices we make at SEL are embedded in this network, protecting the flow of power so his team can focus on the life in their hands.
We do our part so they can do theirs, and together we power the future.
Pullman Regional Hospital has two freezers that store human tissue: a –20°C freezer and a –70°C one. Tissue that goes in a –20°C freezer is good for six months; tissue that goes in a –70°C freezer is good for five years. So, how important is power? When it concerns something like human tissue—something that someone gave up, a part of themselves, to help somebody—it was a big sacrifice, and the hospital can’t even risk losing it.
Both freezers are on battery backup systems, and a generator will kick on to supply power during an outage. Hospital personnel log the temperature of each freezer daily. If it goes up just one degree, personnel activate an emergency response to fix the problem before the tissues are unusable.
Ed Harrich and his team process their surgical equipment in steam sterilizers. It’s a sensitive process that requires exact temperatures and pressures over a specific time period—often taking as long as an hour for a sterilization cycle. If there’s a tiny surge in the power or a hiccup in the system at all, the sterilizer may abort the cycle. If this happens, personnel must unload and repackage everything before restarting the sterilizer cycle. If this equipment is something the surgical team is waiting for, it causes big delays.
If the surgical team loses power while in the middle of clipping a major blood vessel, they can’t cauterize, they can’t see what they’re supposed to be doing—basically, they’re suddenly blind.
Everyone has to stand still. Freeze. Even the smallest movement can contaminate the room because of how dark it is. Operators must stand perfectly still with their hands up. If power is not immediately restored, the surgical team must carefully remove instruments and stabilize the patient.
Ed explained that without adequate power the entire hospital would essentially become a first aid station. The ER department wouldn’t be able to take any traumas. All the surgery cases would have to be wrapped up, and any new ones scheduled for the day could not begin. The CT scan machine, MRI machines, ultrasound machines, and more would all drop out.
From the generation source, high-voltage electricity travels great distances along transmission lines through a series of substations until it reaches communities, where it is distributed to homes, schools, businesses, and more. SEL devices play a critical role in protecting the power at each stage.