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Power Restored to DHMC; Hospital Continues Equipment Checks

Lebanon — All systems were restored at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center late Saturday night, after a melted fuse in an overheated transformer cut the hospital’s power and other systems earlier that day.

Spokesman Mike Barwell said that the hospital had planned a “controlled shutdown” for Sunday afternoon, during which it would replace and make final repairs to damaged equipment. Such equipment included ventilation and cooling pieces. No medical equipment was affected.

At 10 p.m. Sunday, Barwell said the hospital anticipated that the process would be completed by Monday morning. He said the shutdown would be “seamless” for patients, as hospital staff would selectively shut off individual parts for maintenance, as opposed to the complete system loss on Saturday.

“There should be very little visible impact,” Barwell said. “It’s mostly procedural.”

Barwell said hospital technicians and outside experts are currently looking at the cause of the problem. Staff has not “even begun to assess” the monetary effects of the damage, he said.

The Lebanon Fire Department responded to the hospital at about 6:15 a.m. Saturday, where Fire Chief Chris Christopoulous said it found “a fair amount of smoke” outside a mechanical room on Level Two, which is not a clinical area.

The melted fuse was part of the power transformer system, which handles electrical power coming into the hospital from outside. There were no injuries. Barwell said the smoke was restricted to a small area in the main hospital building, and several patients were moved out of the area as a precaution and due to the odor emanating from the fried electrical equipment.

Christopoulos said Saturday that electrical incidents like the one that befell the hospital are common, but took on deeper complexity due to Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s bevy of systems.

Barwell likened Sunday’s controlled shutdown to the correct way to turn off a computer — instead of just pulling the plug and losing data, one should first close out of programs and save documents. Except in this case, he said, it’s “on a huge scale.”

Electronic patient records would be the last system taken down, Barwell said, and the first put back up.

The incident on Saturday put the hospital on “partial diversion” as far as accepting patients, a status that Barwell said the hospital was still under as of Sunday afternoon. Partial diversion means the hospital still accepted trauma patients and victims of heart attacks and strokes, but sent less immediate problems to other facilities. That status will change as the situation is fixed up, he said.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.