From storms to hurricanes and floods, natural disasters have ravaged many communities in recent years, prompting the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue new emergency preparedness requirements for healthcare providers, effective in November, 2016.


The new rule, which takes effect November 16, 2016, requires 17 provider types (including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, rural clinics, long-term and intermediate care facilities) to step up their emergency plans, communications, training, policies and procedures to ensure continued care for patients in the event of a disaster. All healthcare facilities impacted will be required to be at full compliance by November 16, 2017.
No plan, however, can survive real-world crises without a strong foundation. This brings us to three common oversights that are guaranteed to sink your profits, put patients and your facility at risk:
Lack of experience
Among the 115+ healthcare facilities we serve across 15 states, last year we activated incident command systems in hospitals 93 times. But many hospitals (particularly stand-alone hospitals or small health systems) may not see an emergency for years. When an emergency hits, experience is crucial for solving problems without overspending, increasing risks to patients, or creating much bigger problems in the future.
Like trying to learn karate from a book, no amount of training can make up for a lack of first-hand experience in keeping patients and associates safe during a disaster. If you don’t have that experience internally, seek it out now, before you have a crisis in your hands.
Waiting for the Calvary
If any aspect of your emergency plans hinges on external “saviors”—federal, state or community resources—you’ll be in for very unpleasant (and costly) surprises.
Once, we observed a hospital doing an evacuation exercise. Their plan involved calling the local ambulance service, which had 25 ambulances, and which the hospital estimated would complete their evacuation in about five hours.
What they didn’t realize was that the primary function of the ambulance service was to respond to the community during a disaster. What’s more, another hospital down the street was counting on those same 25 ambulances for their evacuation plan.
When relying on government or community resources, many hospital leaders forget they’re going to be standing in line. It’s like going to Walmart when the power goes out, hoping they don’t sell out of generators before you make it to the register.
Build your program so that your organization isn’t in danger of going without vital resources, and also not hoarding resources away from the community during a crisis. One hospital we worked with, for instance, had processes in place to bring in ambulances and resources from out of state during a disaster. When disaster struck, they ended up lending extra generators to the local water department to get the water system back up and running, and were an invaluable asset to the community.
Uninformed or unengaged leaders
You never want to get a call from a board member asking “What’s going on?” during a disaster. Rather, you want to have knowledge and confidence in your program, and feel safe knowing the program will fulfill its objectives.
As a healthcare executive, you’re juggling a lot of responsibilities. But not knowing your emergency management program, team, and what they’re doing isn’t going to help you (nor help your career) during a disaster.
Reading your safety committee minutes is a good start. Those minutes are the next best thing to having everyone within your physical environment sitting around a table, discussing what they’ve done in the past month or quarter, and a great way to get a sense of what’s happening with patient safety, performance metrics, and crisis preparations in your organization.
You’re just days away from the new CMS emergency preparedness rule. Take steps now to ensure neither the CMS nor a natural disaster catches you unprepared.