Power outage spurs federal inspection at Sinai-Grace Hospital

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News
Mary Brown and her husband, Sterling,  show a photo of Mary's mother at their home in Detroit.  Minister Anna Belle Smith died on Nov. 22 after being taken to Sinai-Grace Hospital, where the power was out,  and then transferred to Henry Ford Hospital.

Detroit — A federal inspection was conducted at DMC Sinai-Grace on Tuesday following a complaint that a Detroit woman died after the hospital couldn't treat her during a power outage in November.

The Detroit Medical Center hospital was running on partial power Nov. 21 from generators when 87-year-old Anna Belle Smith arrived with chest pain, according to her family. 

Within minutes of arriving at 9:35 p.m., Smith was diagnosed with STEMI, a blockage in one of the main arteries that supply blood to the heart that needs immediate treatment or the patient can die, The Detroit News reported on Monday. The power went out at 9 p.m. due to a cut cable near the hospital, according to DTE Energy Co. 

Doctors at Sinai-Grace couldn't perform a potentially lifesaving procedure due to insufficient power, the emergency physician at Sinai-Grace wrote in medical records provided by Smith's family.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs inspected the hospital on Tuesday on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

"LARA, on behalf of CMS, has conducted a complaint-based investigation at Sinai-Grace to investigate allegations related to a power outage at the facility," LARA spokesman Pardeep Toor confirmed Wednesday. "We cannot comment further on an ongoing investigation."

DMC said it expected the review to "continue over the coming days."

"We will be working collaboratively with the surveyors to demonstrate our performance," DMC said in a released statement. "During the survey process, our hospital remains an approved provider of services in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Sinai-Grace remains committed to providing our patients with safe, accessible, quality care.”

In Smith's case, she needed a procedure in the cardiac catheterization lab, but the lab was closed because of the power outage, hospital records state. To make matters worse, just one elevator was functioning and the lab was located on another floor, Smith's family said. 

According to family members, staff didn't want to put her on the elevator because they feared it too might lose power.  

Smith was transferred to Henry Ford Hospital but didn't arrive there until two hours after she was taken to Sinai-Grace, according to hospital records. Henry Ford staff tried to save her, but it was too late.

At 12:03 a.m., Henry Ford doctors ceased cardiac resuscitation, per Smith's advance wishes. She was pronounced dead at 12:11 a.m.

Because of the age of the building, which was constructed between 1950 and 1970, the generators are regulated under standards adopted in 1998, according to Toor. It's unclear whether the hospital was in violation of those standards.

Newer standards require hospitals have enough emergency power to maintain cooling, power and lighting for at least one operating room, delivery room, trauma room, angiography room, interventional radiology room and cardiac catheterization lab — but that only applies to facilities built since 2015. 

DTE expressed condolences in a statement for Monday's story and noted it boosted the hospital's power supply during the outage by bringing in diesel generators. Officials didn't say at what time those generators were brought in. 

"We weren’t a party to yesterday’s investigation, and so we aren’t able to comment beyond our original statement," DTE spokeswoman Randi Berris said of Tuesday's inspection.

Smith's death has been deeply felt by her five children, 21 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

She lived independently in Detroit's River Tower Apartments and was active and relatively healthy despite her years, family member say. It was a bitter loss at the start of the holiday season.

Berkely-based attorney Jules Olsman, who is representing Smith's relatives, welcomed the investigation. 

"The family is looking for answers at this point," Olsman said Wednesday. "This was a myocardial infarction in process, and they knew that. In cardiac medicine, the expression is 'time is muscle, and muscle is time.' Every second that goes by and something isn't done is bad. 

"If you're a hospital and you can't provide medical services because you don't have electricity, you should close your E.R. to those kinds of cases." 


Twitter: @kbouffardDN