Powering the miracle of life


    Resilient power is crucial when performing complex foetal surgery and genetic diagnostics. Care New England is protecting its most precious patients – and its reputation – through Schneider technology. Louise Frampton reports…

    Care New England’s Women & Infants Hospital, in Providence, Rhode Island, is a centre of excellence in women’s health, offering a wide range of services in infertility treatment, breast care, gynaecologic cancer and prenatal diagnosis. One of the largest obstetric facilities in the US, the hospital has a first-class reputation for leading-edge, utero foetal surgery and genetic diagnostics. 

    Whether performing operations to correct spina bifida or cardiac defects in the womb, or performing genome analysis for chromosomal abnormalities, the site is reliant on highly sensitive technology, operating 24 hours per day. Secure backup power is essential to ensuring safety during extremely challenging procedures, often performed on some of the smallest and most vulnerable patients – before they are born. 

    In the past, the Providence area has experienced significant challenges to the grid supply. The proximity of the hospital to the bay puts the site at increased risk of water and wind damage during extreme weather events and the area has been hit by some severe hurricanes and blizzards, leading to power outages in the area. 

    It is not just the weather that threatens the stability of the power supply, however. Care New England’s research buildings, on Elm Street, are also located on the oldest part of the grid in Rhode Island. Four years ago, a major electrical fire under the street blew manhole covers across distances of more than 30 metres. 

    Ensuring resilient IT 

    Given these challenges and the criticality of the data being generated both at the bedside and in the research labs, resilient backup power is vital. If power was lost, due to an event with the grid, the hospital would be unable to able to access imaging, bedside patient monitoring systems, electronic patient records and other IT based systems, via the network.

    Power quality and resilience is crucial to protect the data produced by the huge number of prenatal tests and scans undertaken to diagnose foetal conditions. The vital work undertaken at the bedside and in the research labs produces large volumes of prenatal ultrasound images, video clips, genetic screening results and other data, stored alongside the many thousands of electronic patient records. 

    Most departments across Care New England have ‘downtime machines’ – physically secured and encrypted workstations that contain time-limited local copies of the patient records. These machines are protected by Schneider Electric technology and emergency power. In the event of a systemic power failure coupled with a network failure, the clinical staff will continue to have access to the patients’ electronic health records. 

    There are also two feeds from the grid to ensure resilience – if one supply goes down, the site can switch to the second. The emergency power generation can provide a minimum of two-days’ of backup power and is tested on a monthly basis by shutting down the mains power. 

    Care New England’s critical infrastructure – including the UPS – is monitored via Schneider’s EcoStruxure software, offering real-time recommendations to optimise infrastructure performance and mitigate risk. The software also helps identify issues from the outside power supply and can offer an insight, as part of a ‘look back exercise’, in the event of any problems. 

    At the bedside

    Stephen R Carr is the director of the Prenatal Diagnosis Center and Maternal–Fetal Medicine Diagnostic Imaging. He explains that power quality and resilience is essential to the work he carries out. 

    “At the Prenatal Diagnosis Center, we perform tests such as amniocentesis, as well as chorionic villus sampling [a prenatal test in which a sample is removed from the placenta for testing]. If the foetus has an accumulation of fluid in the bladder, I can insert a catheter, or if there is an accumulation of fluid in the chest, I can insert a chest tube. The hospital also performs spina bifida repair within the uterus. 

    “These prenatal tests and treatments require the use of high-resolution foetal ultrasound, down to the sub-millimeter level. Using this technology, I can image the lens in the baby’s eye or the flaps inside the valves of a heart the size of a thumb.

    “But for this technology to work I need smooth, reliable power. In the past, I was able to operate for three hours on the UPS, when the substation was taken out by a helium balloon. Despite the outage, I was able to finish the ultrasound procedure and give the information to the patient.” 

    The Prenatal Diagnosis Centre currently uses APC Smart-UPS XL 3000 units on the majority of its ultrasound machines across the system, protecting the safety of the most vulnerable patients.

    Highlighting the criticality of edge IT for the hospital, Dr Carr adds: “Latency and resilient power are everything. I perform 20,000 patient consultations per year. Each patient study contains between 80-100 still images, as well as video, and I perform 50 of these per day. I produce terabytes of data, which must be stored indefinitely. I need to be able to access this data at all times and I constantly want more bandwidth.”

    Protecting research data

    Several million dollars’ worth of clinical and research lab equipment across the hospital system is also protected by Schneider Electric products, as well as emergency power. This is helping to protect the state-of-the-art genome sequencing equipment installed inside the research labs. This building is located in the Knowledge District in Providence, an area that has the oldest and least reliable power grid in the state.

    Part of the Care New England group, the Kilguss Research Institute is home to the Centre for Perinatal Biology (CPB). The centre started as a National Institutes of Health-funded Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE). It is now a self-supported centre undertaking advanced research on foetal development and reproductive medicine. 

    The genetic testing laboratory undertakes important screening tests using cutting-edge micro array machines to detect the expression of thousands of genes at the same time. DNA micro arrays are microscope slides that are printed with thousands of tiny spots, each containing a DNA sequence or gene. Often, these slides are referred to as gene chips or DNA chips. A thousand times more sensitive than a microscope, the machine is capable of detecting small changes in the genome, including deletions. This can help identify genetic disorders such as spinal muscular atrophy, for example. 

    Dr John Pepperell, who oversees the DNA testing procedures at Care New England, comments: “While the machine is running, it is important to have no power interruptions, so the machine is hooked up to the reserve power. It is a very sensitive piece of equipment and it takes three days to process the test. 

    “However, if the process is half way through a chip, and a power interruption results in a pause to the operation, uneven photobleaching can occur and the data will be unusable. Repeating the process significantly increases the cost of micro array testing.” 

    Smart UPS

    Schneider Electric’s technology is also ensuring uninterrupted power for the Women & Infants Division of Genetics (part of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine). The department uses three state-of-the-art Vanadis machines to extract foetal DNA, to screen for genetic disorders such as Down syndrome (trisomy 21), Edwards’ syndrome (trisomy 18) and Patau’s syndrome (a rare genetic disorder caused by having an additional copy of chromosome 13). 

    Schneider Electric’s Smart-UPS (2200) units provide high density, true double-conversion online power protection for the genetics laboratory. Installed next to the Vanadis machines, the smart-UPSs act as a backup, while the units’ advanced electric relays ensure that the supply of the electric current is stable. The technology can alter the voltage levels and maintain a constant flow, in case of a voltage fluctuation, and protect the connected loads from surges, spikes and other power disturbances. The connectivity of the UPS to the network or cloud offers additional peace of mind, enabling remote monitoring of the status of the units. This is especially useful as the Vanadis machines operate overnight, when there are no laboratory staff present. 

    Ultimately, unplanned outages can threaten patient safety, delay important tests and cause damage to a provider’s reputation. Resilient backup power, connected UPS and EcoStruxure software is giving Care New England peace of mind – ensuring reliable uptime and protecting its most precious patients.


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