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Hospital Defends Handling of Power Failure

June 6, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center officials defended their handling of a power failure that shut off 32 patients’ respirators but conceded Saturday that the failure helped kill a critically ill baby.

″What we did for that baby at that particular time was not enough or sufficient,″ said Dr. Armando E. Grassi, who was in charge of the neonatal intensive-care unit when the lights went out Friday morning.

But he said the child, born three months’ premature, was extremely ill and probably would not have lived for more than a few more days regardless of the power failure.

Three investigations were under way Saturday in the aftermath of the 22- minute outage that began at 2:54 a.m. Friday during routine maintenance of the hospital’s electrical system.

Hospital spokeswoman Diana S. Goldin said nurses were aware that the power might fail and were prepared to begin manual respiration immediately.

But Grassi said the time lapse between the power failure and the start of manual respiration was ″probably one of the factors″ in the child’s death.

Myra Manners, another spokeswoman, said manual respiration began ″within seconds″ of the power failure, by personnel stationed ″literally inches away.″

The state Health Department is investigating the incident, and the city medical examiner is looking into the cause of the child’s death.

New York Hospital is conducting its own investigation, according to Cosmo LaCosta, the hospital’s senior associate director in charge of operations.

Questions have been raised in the past about the deaths of an 18-year-old woman who died eight hours after her admission in 1984 and artist Andy Warhol, who died at the hospital in February. The hospital was criticized by a grand jury for the woman’s death, and by the state Health Department in Warhol’s death.

At a news conference, LaCosta said he did not know exactly what caused the power failure, which occurred after electricians had shut off normal power from Con Edison and switched to four backup generators. The regular power had been shut off for a long-planned replacement of an old switching panel.

About 45 minutes after the switch to emergency power, the generators all overheated and shut off as their cooling pumps failed.

Electricity was cut off to about 20 percent of the 28-story hospital, including the neo-natal intensive care unit, the pediatric intensive care unit, the coronary care unit and a portion of the general intensive care unit.

The hospital would not identify the child, described only as having been born at another hospital three months’ premature and weighing 1.9 pounds at his death 40 days later.

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