By Bavand Karimzadeh
Can business partners be best friends, too? Is there a time when professional duties become personal responsibility? For more than 30 years, Matco Electric has been the provider of choice for the electrical service and remodeling needs of Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton. For professional healthcare providers, unexpected problems can literally mean life or death. The long-standing relationship with Lourdes is a testament to the quality of Matco’s installations as well as their excellent customer care.
It is common to find relationships of convenience in the business world, but having someone you can call upon in a time of the utmost need is a truly valuable commodity. For Matco, the moment of truth came when Lourdes suffered severe flood damage and power failure, forcing an evacuation and threatening the hospital’s ability to provide care for its patients. During this time, what had been a solid business relationship became a much more personal and meaningful connection.
Over the course of several calamitous days in the summer of 2006, unprecedented rainfall wreaked havoc along the path of the Susquehanna River, which runs through New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Homes and businesses in the Susquehanna basin were destroyed by massive flooding. Thousands of residents of the eastern half of southern New York were evacuated as the area received a record-high 4 inches of rain.
After touring the region by helicopter, New York Governor George Pataki commented that the heavy rainfall caused “unparalleled devastation” and estimated that property damage in his state would total at least $100 million. In response, Pataki activated more than 300 National Guard members to assist in evacuations and rescues and to direct traffic.
For patients and staff of the area’s health care facilities, it was an especially difficult period. Besides managing the uncertainty and stress brought on by the natural disaster, medical professionals and volunteers had to relocate hundreds of infirm and elderly patients to surrounding facilities, not to mention ensuring the welfare of their patients throughout the crisis.
Among the health care providers most directly affected by the flooding was Lourdes. On Riverside Drive along a particularly shallow edge of the basin, the hospital was positioned to bear the brunt of the flood. Lourdes staff members made a valiant effort to stand their ground, including building berms to shield the hospital and protect patients from floodwaters.
However, the Binghamton area was severely affected by the heavy rainfall. A swollen creek carved a 25-foot-deep chasm through all four lanes of Interstate 88 approximately 35 miles northeast of the city. Two truckers were killed when their rigs plunged into the gaps. Surrounding areas were damaged in a similar fashion, and after a week of steady rain the lower levels of
Lourdes were becoming inundated with water. Administrators, concerned with the safety of close to 90 patients, were forced to order an evacuation.
In any emergency medical operation, resources are stretched. In this special case the Susquehanna River flood proved that Lourdes Hospital was capable of properly allocating its medical resources even in the wake of a disaster.
“We made sure patients were appropriately triaged and attended to for the level required for transport, and there were several physicians working with us that were at the entrances as patients exited,” says David Patak, senior vice president of operations at Lourdes. “We acted proactively by not waiting too long to evacuate.”
The relocation of the patients is not an especially easy task. Organization, logistical planning, and communication were all demanding challenges under the stress of the environmental conditions.
In the end, the most important goals of the evacuation — the health and welfare of Lourdes’ patients — were met flawlessly by hospital staff.
“It (the relocation) went very smoothly. The county and other emergency transportation services responded with the adequate amount of ambulances,” says Patak. “A prioritization table was used as part of our evacuation plan, and we started transferring patients to area nursing homes. As many as possible were sent home, and about 76 patients were sent to acute care facilities in town.”
Once the need to relocate and provide care for patients had been met, Lourdes administrators turned their attention to restoring the hospital to operational status. Now the partnership with Matco would be tested.
“It was a real disaster,” says Tim Mercier, director of facilities at Lourdes Hospital. “We had sustained damage to a lot of sensitive medical equip- ment. Most of the lower level was submerged as well as the utility tunnel that services the main hospital from the adjacent power station. When we called Matco we weren’t sure where to start rebuilding.”
For Matco Project Manager Marty Lewis it was pretty clear where to start. The root problem, lack of electricity, was exacerbated by the fact that the 300-foot-long utility tunnel housed a buss duct that conducted electricity from the power station to the main hospital. Installed almost 30 years ago in a large-scale renovation project supervised by Matco Electric President Ron Barber, the 2000 amp buss duct was partially submerged in water, leaving the majority of the hospital without primary power. When it became evident that the buss duct would not dry in a reasonable amount of time, Mercier made the decision to replace it with a combination of conductive wires housed by durable, weatherproof pipe. At Lourdes, every second without power was life-threatening. Matco supervisors gave the project the highest priority, working diligently to survey and correct the problem.
“All of this happened at a very critical juncture,” says Lewis. “Tim actually made the decision on Saturday, so it was a challenge for us to find some of the materials we would need to complete the project. Luckily, we were able to call upon some key vendors, and they really came through for us.”
The duct restoration project required approximately 3,000 feet of electrical metallic tubing (EMT) and nearly 14,000 feet of 500 micro-centimeter (MCM) electrical cable. The non-operational 2000 amp buss duct would have to be detached completely and replaced. Lewis assigned Foreman Ken Raymond to oversee the project. Alongside additional contractors from W.H. Lane, Matco engineers and technicians worked around the clock to remove the damaged buss duct and install the new electrical pipe and wire system.
“Matco and the assisting contractors really did a great job,” says Mercier. “Considering the scale of the project, limited time frame, and special circumstances of everything that was hanging in the balance, they surpassed all of our expectations.”
Once power had been restored, teams of technicians replaced damaged receptacles, ceiling panels, and fluorescent lighting fixtures throughout the hospital’s first floor. In a unique gesture of service, Matco also replaced a variety of damaged equipment ranging from kitchen appliances to x-ray, CAT scan, and sterilization equipment.
“We basically redid the whole floor from the ceiling light fixtures to the medical machinery,” says Lewis. “It was an interesting project. It actually turned out to be much larger and more detailed than we had originally anticipated, but we made the necessary adjustments. They were really grateful for everything we did.”
Lourdes administrators recently contracted Matco once again to assist in the addition of the three-story Decker Hematology/Oncology Center laboratory and patient care areas. Matco provided technicians to replace two 2,000 amp (1500KVA) transformers over the course of two days. In all, Matco has completed nearly 600,000 square feet of renovations and additions for Lourdes.
“We have a relationship with Matco dating back almost 30 years,” says Patak. “It is based completely on the quality of their work. They have been consistently professional and efficient on each of the various projects we’ve done here.”
So what is Lewis’ secret to success? How does Matco make seemingly impossible projects look easy?
“It was a difficult project what with all the water and mud everywhere, but it wasn’t anything we weren’t prepared for,” says Lewis. “The most important step is the initial planning. If you plan the project properly everything will usually fall into place and things tend to take care of themselves.”
Sounds like it’s just business as usual.