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Colorado facility that conducts skilled nursing care switched to "emergency mode" during lengthy power outage

Residents at senior living center in Colorado recall "uncomfortable" moments in power outage
Residents at senior living center in Colorado recall "uncomfortable" moments in power outage 03:24

As the Colorado Public Utilities Commission begins an investigation into the handling of pre-emptive power outages as requested by Gov. Jared Polis, it will likely look into how power was turned off at crucial facilities. Among them are facilities that conduct skilled nursing care like Fraser in Boulder.


Several days after power was restored, things are back to normal at the Fraser living facility with quiet and calm being the primary result. A total of 500 residents at Fraser call it home, with a variety of levels of care -- from independent living, assisted living, memory care and intensive skilled nursing care. But over the weekend when power was turned off for more than 28 hours the routine was disturbed and concern rose about the ability to care for people.

"So we have a host of residents who require oxygen concentrators, we have residents that need CPAP machines and then of course for the care of residents," said Tomas Mendez, vice president of operations for Fraser.

There was no notice from Xcel Energy about the pending power outage.

"No one really contacted us. We reached out first," said Mendez.

When they did reach out Saturday via email with an Xcel Energy representative as well as a phone call to the utility, they were told there should be no problem.

"My rep said, 'Yeah I don't think you're going to be impacted,'" said Fraser's director of facility operations Cory Dragge.

But a little more than an hour later they were contacted with other news.

"Not a phone call, but an email that hey it turns out I've got an updated list, you are going to be impacted. Power's going off at 3 o'clock," related Dragge.

That meant getting people set with flashlights and getting generators going as well as thinking about how food could be prepared before power shut down.

"You switch to emergency mode. Who are those that need the most assistance? And who needs the most care," said Mendez.

Generators kicked in to provide critical power.

"Telephones, our Wi-Fi so that a lot of our software can run. Our clinical care team software. Our safety software. Our doors. All of those things continue to run," said Mendez.

But generators can only do so much. They do not push enough power to meet all demand.

"The heat wasn't on anymore. So it was more than just chilly," said resident Nan Phifer.

"I knew I was safe. I was indoors, nothing was going to kill me. But ooooh brr," she said about the cold that moved in.

Some outlets were powered by the generators, others not. Some areas were dark, creating fall risks.

The outage continued into Sunday and Dragge looked at the potential of the power being out into Monday or potentially Tuesday. All the while wondering why? Power was on nearby.

"Even just across the street from where we are right now, there was power. The Safeway just down the street had power. So we a little bit frustrated," said Mendez.

Sunday evening the power came back on after more than 28 hours off. It had been a long night, but there were no reported problems to people's physical health. There has been a lot of discussion about why the facility was not classified as essential and kept powered.

"Too many lawyers involved with the previous fire. So Xcel didn't know what else to do," said resident Charles Springer, alluding to a lawsuit filed after the Marshall Fire alleging that energized power lines contributed to the destruction.

"I just hope that they learn from it. and they come up with a better plan God willing that better served the community," said Dragge. "Nobody wants another Marshall Fire ... it was the execution of what they did that was flawed," he said about the outage.

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