During last year’s catastrophic hurricane season, it wasn’t luck that kept many coastal hospitals functional: it was preparation. However, while some hospitals could continue to provide adequate medical care through the destruction, others weren’t able to overcome the delayed or interrupted medical care.
Of the more than 4,600 deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017, one-third were a direct result of delayed or interrupted medical care
. In 2017, natural disasters caused a record $306 billion in damage
in the U.S. alone. Combined with the sheer number of casualties in Puerto Rico, it’s evident just how dangerous natural disasters can be. Yet, many healthcare facilities are woefully underprepared to withstand alarming rates of injury.
Medxcel recommends healthcare facilities consider four key components to disaster preparedness to safeguard their patients and facilities. Comprehensive training, technology fail-safes and leadership involvement are all examples of how facilities can begin to develop effective emergency management protocol.
Plan to prepare and prepare to plan.
It is paramount for a hospital to protect itself against hurricanes with a plan. Having a specific plan that covers monitoring, pre-landfall activities and equipment staging, operations during the storm and post-storm recovery is crucial to reducing damage and costs, as well as maintaining operations.
Planning includes performing a risk assessment that contains vulnerabilities to water and wind damage, flood-prone areas of your campus and generator capacity. Mitigation strategies can include closing flood-risk areas before landfall, lowering water levels of ponds, constructing flood walls, or pre-staging generators.
Hospitals must remain open during a disaster for vital patient intake and continued quality care; therefore, leaders must acknowledge the importance and value of emergency management programs and continue to place weight on them.
In the case of a storm, leadership will play an integral role in decision making. Critical decisions such as additional resources and patient evacuation need to be made at least 48 hours before landfall, and many times the impact area and intensity are still unsure. The leadership team will also be responsible in determining staffing plans, canceling elective procedures and closing off-site locations. It’s also up to them to act quickly and coordinate decisions with other hospitals in the impact area.
Communicate early, often and accurately.
Communication is an essential component of proper disaster preparedness. Healthcare facilities will need to communicate early, often and accurately, no matter the situation. Withholding information is not an option; with the rise of social media, it is imperative that hospitals control communication with regular updates. One method to accomplish this is through a public information team.
Staff communication should begin as part of the planning process. Understanding which staff are available to assist during a disaster, and any needs they have (such as child, family or pet care), is crucial. Patient and family communication are also critical. Patients and their families should understand you have a plan to continue to provide care and keep them safe and know when and where to find out information about their family’s during a storm.
Evaluate annually and after each emergency event.
Plans should be updated annually regardless of if disasters occur. After each event, a thorough after-action review should be completed, including input from staff, patients and community response organizations. If any corrective actions are needed, a specific corrective plan should be written with leaders and timelines assigned. Once the corrective plan is completed, the updated plan should be tested through exercise, and staff should be reeducated on any changes to the plan.
Hurricanes are a frightening but likely occurrence in coastal cities. While the hope is that a storm never impacts your healthcare facility, you must be prepared for the worst to weather the storm with minimal care interruptions.