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(3/23/2020)

With coronavirus dominating the headlines, it’s easy to forget that there are still many other infectious diseases affecting the lives of people today. Whether it’s a disease as new as the coronavirus or as common as the flu, it’s more crucial than ever that facility managers are prepared for anything. It’s not a question of whether an epidemic will occur or not, but when it will strike. Hospitals around the world must plan for every kind of possible outbreak, before it’s too late.
 

Confirmed cases of the coronavirus have only continued to rise, at the time of this writing, there have been more than 300,000 cases globally. Flu season is also in full swing, and according to the CDC there have been an estimated 38 million illnesses, 390,000 hospitalizations and 23,000 deaths from flu. With these alarming numbers, it’s essential that all healthcare facilities are equipped to treat and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to update infection control protocols and ensure your facility can handle an unexpected outbreak.
 
Assemble a team of experts.
 
A facility’s emergency management (EM) team is responsible for developing a plan of action, coordinating a response, and informing everyone when an outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic occurs. This team should have the ability to identify other experts to navigate communication. This designated communication specialist works as a liaison to patients and staff. Miscommunication can commonly occur during an outbreak, therefore providing information to the public through a singular source is best practice.
 
Providing guidance to facilities teams is vital in avoiding confusion that can lead to mistakes. Often the public can receive inaccurate information during emergencies from the media or uninformed peers. The EM team must cut through this noise and be a source of truth that employees and patients can rely on.
 
Assess the situation.
 
Once a case is identified, quickly responding to infectious disease cases is key.  Often it takes several days to confirm an infection, as the patient is being evaluated based on CDC-published criteria. For the coronavirus, the CDC and public health teams will assist the hospital in treating the patient. With any infectious disease, the EM team should connect with the local public health department and public safety providers for frequent updates. Facilities managers should work proactively to compare plans with other facilities and absorb knowledge on disease prevention in order to respond effectively.
 
Implement your plan.
 
Protect patients and employees from infectious diseases by carefully following protocol and keeping your facility clean. Healthcare facility managers must put their plan into action to contain and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Quickly placing infected patients in private rooms for evaluation can save other patients from catching the disease. During an outbreak, enforce sanitary techniques to combat the spread of airborne diseases, such as covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, properly washing hands, and staying home when sick. Team members should wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when necessary, such as gowns or gloves, to shield from infection.
 
 
In your facility, place signage, tissues, masks, and hand sanitizer in hallways, rooms and common spaces for sick patients. Facility managers and janitorial teams should be knowledgeable on how to properly sanitize patient rooms and common areas. Use extra precautions when cleaning equipment and tools used to treat infected patients.
 
With practice and preparation, your team will be able to collaborate under stress to properly handle any infectious disease outbreak. Next time an epidemic strikes, assemble your team of experts, assess the situation and implement your emergency plan to help stop the spread before it’s too late.