How hospitals can brace for impact
No matter what it is – coronavirus, flu, etc. – epidemics can strike at any time. Is your hospital ready? In this guest post, Scott Cormier, VP of emergency management, environment of care and safety at Medxcel, explains how you can keep your facility safe by preparing now.
First identified in 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, the novel coronavirus is now spreading rapidly person-to-person, and so is the hysteria. At the time of writing, the global number of confirmed coronavirus cases has soared to 24,000, with a death toll up to 490. While these numbers are high and likely to rise in the coming weeks, the coronavirus isn’t the only infectious disease affecting humans today.
Flu season affects the globe each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there have been 19 million cases of the flu this season, with 10,000 confirmed deaths. While the coronavirus is new and not entirely understood yet, the flu strikes every year and always causes significant damage.
Whether the disease is as rare as the coronavirus or as common as the flu, it’s crucial that hospitals brace for the impact of an infectious disease outbreak. Epidemics can strike anytime, anywhere. Keep your facility safe if an epidemic hits, so you can be prepared for when.
Prevent disease spreading
Healthcare facilities, whether urgent care clinics or 300-bed hospitals, are a primary focus for patients seeking help with illnesses and are crucial in containing and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. However, many patients and providers may be subject to hospital-acquired infections (HAI), with the influenza virus being the most common. Facilities use precautions every day in health care – standard, droplet and airborne – in addition to specialized equipment and screening tools to help treat infected patients and prevent workers from catching the disease.
When an outbreak occurs, there are many steps your facility can take to avoid it escalating. Practice familiar techniques used to prevent the spread of other airborne diseases, such as covering coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue, properly and frequently washing hands, and staying home when sick. Additionally, place signage prominently in facilities during flu season or other infectious disease outbreaks for patients and visitors to apply a mask if they have symptoms. For a more severe disease, utilize standard Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gloves, face shields or gowns, designed to protect the wearer’s body from infection. It’s also encouraged for patients to self-identify to triage teams for evaluation, and if necessary, be placed in a private room. Finally, janitorial teams and facility managers should be informed on how to frequently and properly clean common areas, patient rooms and hallways to further prevent the spread.
Designate team of experts
It’s important to have healthcare experts skilled at distilling information when people may be panicked. A facility’s emergency management (EM) team has the ability to keep patients and visitors informed throughout an epidemic without the fear of spreading rumors. Infectious disease response is a multi-disciplinary effort, and an EM team’s strength is in the ability to bring together experts to help coordinate responses and follow procedures.
Take your facility’s preparedness one step further by having the EM team designate an additional team of experts. With this team, members can prepare guidance and navigate communication channels as they act as a liaison between the EM team, patients and staff. During an outbreak, hysteria is bound to occur. The team of experts will greatly help to reduce these miscommunications caused by panic as they communicate publicly as a single source.
This is especially important because today, we’re able to receive worldwide information with just the click of a button. By using their TV remote or opening up Facebook during the midst of an outbreak, the public is bombarded with health information – both accurate and not. This information can extend to staff directly or through a patient-driven rumor mill. Being regularly and accurately informed from a single, expert source will help healthcare facilities slow the hype and keep panic levels to a minimum. Provide regular communication on outbreaks, responses and guidance to facilities teams, and focus on the information from the CDC as the source of truth, not cable TV or a Facebook post.
Maintain connections, identify suspected cases
Your EM team should connect with local public health departments and public safety providers frequently throughout the epidemic to learn updates, compare plans and gain new insights on disease prevention. While healthcare providers understand infectious disease, standard, droplet and airborne precautions, prehospital providers understand levels A, B, C and D protection primarily for chemical emergencies. Understanding these differences will help prevent a miscommunication around the event, especially as the outbreak continues to grow.
For the coronavirus, it currently takes several days to confirm an infection. When a patient first enters a healthcare facility, they’re assessed to see if they meet the CDC-published criteria to evaluate suspect patients. Once identified, the facility will then connect with the local health department to review the evaluation. If they believe the patient will test positive for the virus, the patient will be classified as a patient under investigation (PUI) and undergo several lab tests. Once the test is completed (this process could take three to five days), the CDC will band together with the hospital and their local health groups to manage the situation.
A new virus or disease can cause immediate panic, but while the novel coronavirus only has 11 confirmed cases in the U.S., the common flu is far deadlier and more widespread. Miscommunication and misinformation can spread just as quickly as the disease. Collaborate with a team of experts, follow through with external connections and keep outbreak procedures up to date, because it’s no longer a matter of if an epidemic strikes, but when.
Scott Cormier is VP of emergency management, environment of care and safety at Medxcel, a company specializing in facilities management, safety, environment of care, and emergency management. The company provides healthcare service support products and drives in-house capabilities, savings and efficiencies for healthcare organizations that, in turn, improve the overall healing environment for patients and staff.