The Impact of a Large-Scale Power Outage on Hemodialysis Center Operations

Published in: Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, v. 28, no. 6, Dec. 2013, p. 543-546

Posted on RAND.org on September 13, 2013

by Mahshid Abir, Sophia Jan, Lindsay Jubelt, Raina M. Merchant, Nicole Lurie

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Research Question

  1. How did the power outages resulting from the severe storms in June 2012 affect the operations of dialysis centers?

INTRODUCTION: On June 29, 2012, mid-Atlantic storms resulted in a large-scale power outage affecting up to three million people across multiple (US) states. Hemodialysis centers are dependent on electricity to provide dialysis care to end-stage renal disease patients. The objective of this study was to determine how the power outage impacted operations in a sample of hemodialysis centers in the impacted regions. METHODS: The sample consisted of all hemodialysis centers located in the District of Columbia and a total of five counties with the largest power losses in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. A semi-structured interview guide was developed, and the charge nurse or supervisor in each facility was interviewed. The survey questions addressed whether their centers lost power, if so, for how long, where their patients received dialysis, whether their centers had backup generators, and if so, whether they had any problems operating them, and whether their center received patients from other centers if they had power. RESULTS: Calls were placed to 90 dialysis centers in the sampled areas and a 90% response rate was achieved. Overall, hemodialysis operations at approximately 30% (n = 24) of the centers queried were impacted by the power outage. Of the 36 centers that lost power, 31% (n = 11) referred their patients to other dialysis centers, 22% (n = 8) accommodated their patients during a later shift or on a different day; the rest of the centers either experienced brief power outages that did not affect operations or experienced a power outage on days that the center is usually closed. Some centers in the study cohort reported receiving patients from other centers for dialysis 33% (n = 27). Thirty-two percent (n = 26) of the centers queried had backup generators on site. Eleven percent (n = 4) of the centers experiencing power outages reported that backup generators were brought in by their parent companies. CONCLUSIONS: Comprehensive emergency planning for dialysis centers should include provisions for having backup generators on site, having plans in place for the timely delivery of a generator during a power outage, or having predesignated backup dialysis centers for patients to receive dialysis during emergencies. Most dialysis centers surveyed in this study were able to sustain continuity of care by implementing such pre-existing emergency plans.

Key Findings

  • The centers surveyed had emergency plans in place that sustained continuity of care for their patients.
  • Plans included backup generators on site and designated backup dialysis centers where patients could receive care.

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