There is no denying that severe weather events are increasing both in number and in the damage they cause; and that emergency managers are placed under significant stress. If you’re attending the National Healthcare Coalition Preparedness Conference in New Orleans later on this month, stop by booth # 5 to talk about preparedness.
Not only do healthcare facilities have the responsibility for the safety of patients in their care and staff when storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes land, they may also have to cope with a large influx of patients who have sustained weather-related injuries. Similarly, community emergency managers have the responsibility of making sure vulnerable citizens are also safe, especially if they can’t evacuate by themselves.
Thereafter, there is what is known as the “ripple effect” - an increase in hospital admissions attributable to the exacerbation of chronic diseases caused by medications being left behind during the rush to evacuate, a loss of power to operate home medical devices such as ventilators, or the closure of pharmacies. The ripple effect can be responsible for as many hospital admissions as weather-related injuries, and can last for months after a severe weather event due to longer hospital stays.
How do Communities Prepare their Healthcare Facilities for Severe Weather Events?
All healthcare facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs are required by law to have an all-hazards Emergency Preparedness Plan - along with a Communications Plan - and policies and procedures for testing and executing the plan. It is also necessary for healthcare facilities accredited by the Joint Commission to have an all-hazards Emergency Operations Plan that covers communications, resources and assets, safety and security, staff responsibilities, utilities, and clinical support activities.
The term “all-hazards” is not defined in either the CMS' Emergency Preparedness Rule or the Joint Commission's accreditation guidelines, and it is left to each healthcare facility to conduct a risk assessment to determine what hazards it may be subject to and susceptible to. Consequently there is no “one-size-fits-all” methodology for preparing for severe weather events, or indeed for any particular type of emergency (fire, active shooter, hazardous material incident, etc.).
Do Emergency Preparedness Perceptions Differ from Reality?
That would appear to be the case according to our “Emergency Preparedness and Security Trends in Healthcare Report” in which we surveyed hundreds of healthcare leaders about their perceived safety concerns and the actual events that have taken place at their facilities over the past two years. Although severe weather events ranked high in both the safety concerns and actual events categories, this did not reflect in the frequency with which severe weather emergency plans are tested.
A likely reason for this is that CMS and the Joint Commission require healthcare facilities to conduct at least two emergency preparedness exercises per year, while most state fire codes require healthcare facilities to conduct a minimum of two (and sometimes four) fire drills each year. Therefore, provided fires are included as a potential hazard in a healthcare facility's risk assessment, the healthcare facility is fulfilling its Emergency Preparedness requirements by conducting state-mandated fire drills.
Resolving Communication Issues is Key to Preparedness
When an emergency incident occurs, speed is of the essence. A minute's delay in alerting staff to the risk of danger can cost lives. Similarly, when staff, medication, and supplies are in short supply, healthcare leaders need fast information about where the shortages exist and how soon replacement staff, medication, and supplies can be organized. If communication issues exist in any of these areas, the consequences could be significant for both staff and patients.
A mass notification platform is an ideal solution for resolving potential communication issues. It not only provides a means of simultaneously alerting staff to the risk of danger via multiple channels of communication, but supports two-way communication to enhance situational awareness, has a geo-poll capability to facilitate quick answers to critical questions, and allows the segmentation of contacts according to role, location, or other attribute.
- By alerting staff to a severe weather event via multiple channels of communication, the reach of the alert is extended to the maximum possible.
- Two-way communication ensures hospital administrators are kept up-to-date with all the information they need to effectively manage the emergency via one portal.
- Geo-polls provide the opportunity to quickly obtain information about staff availability, the accessibility of medication and supplies, and capacity in other healthcare facilities.
- The segmentation of contacts enables hospital administrators to alert only those for whom incidents are relevant, thus minimizing disruption in the rest of the healthcare facility.
Overall Community Preparedness
Another critical component to overall community preparedness is ensuring that anyone with vulnerable needs and without access to a healthcare facility is accounted for and is provided resources. Maintaining an online vulnerable needs registry is one way to identify community members who might need assistance during a severe weather event. This would help emergency members make sure that the right resources are in the right place to help the right people at the right time, including coordinating with healthcare facilities.
Let's Continue the Conversation
Meet us at booth # 5 at the National Healthcare Coalition Preparedness Conference in New Orleans and let's continue discussing how to prepare our healthcare facilities and communities for severe weather events. Take a look at the findings from our latest survey on healthcare preparedness trends and let us know what you think.
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