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October 18, 2017 - Emergency Preparedness
By Scott Cormier
Natural disasters cause nearly 500 deaths annually in the United States. Unfortunately, the nation’s healthcare facilities continue to fall short in disaster planning and preparedness. This lack of preparation creates the potential for serious ramifications by putting staff, patients, and the financial security of the hospital at risk. These five key components of an effective emergency management plan can help health care facilities survive and return to operation.
Clear communication. In the past, it has often been a natural reaction for organizations to withhold information from the public. This is the wrong approach. Managers in health care facilities can prove their worth to their communities by being open and honest. In today’s world, information will leak out one way or another, so it is essential the public gets the correct information from the health care experts instead of the wrong information from someone else. During a disaster, everyone inside the organization needs to be informed. To effectively manage an emergency, all personnel — medical, legal, government affairs and facilities management, among others — have to understand what’s going on.
Comprehensive training. A facility might not face an emergency situation for many years. While there is no substitute for the real thing, training is vital to ensuring staff is as prepared as possible. Another important factor to consider when implementing a training plan is community involvement. Managers in health care facilities might assume they will have the full cooperation of local ambulance services, police, and fire departments, but those agencies often have other responsibilities in the event of a natural disaster. Establishing the roles of these parties during training is essential to successful emergency management preparations.
Knowledge of assets. Naturally, many people panic in the face of disaster. This reaction places a heavy burden on government agencies and other local resources to provide relief for people dealing with a large-scale emergency. Hospitals cannot depend on outside help. It is imperative that health care facilities take stock of their assets to understand capabilities and limitations ahead of any natural disaster.
Technology fail-safes and protocols. Every hospital has a medical records department. Those departments need a certain amount of physical space, access to files, and software systems to get through every day. What happens when a disaster occurs and knocks the software systems offline, or blocks access to records? How will the hospital operate?
Unfortunately, healthcare facilities often wait until a disaster has created a problem before trying to find a solution, losing precious time in the process. A business continuity plan helps to identify the hardware, software, space and other resources that each area of a facility requires to remain operational. It is crucial to recognize these needs in order to develop alternative solutions before any of the requirements are disrupted by disaster.
Healthcare leadership involvement. Every hospital is focused on patient healing and safety. Occasionally, disaster preparedness is seen as a secondary pursuit, one that is less impactful than the demands of daily healthcare. But the ability to keep a facility open and treating patients during a disaster is an enormous asset to the community, as well as a significant revenue generator.
Healthcare facility managers must understand the importance of a strong emergency management program and devote the proper resources towards disaster preparations. Employees with disaster response experience are vital pieces of the emergency management process. They keep facilities from spiraling out of control. More importantly, they enable a hospital to continue functioning and generating revenue. An effective emergency management department is a valuable insurance policy.
A natural disaster can wreak havoc on an entire community in an instant. If a health care facility is not equipped to respond, it can lose the community’s trust, as well as a significant revenue stream. Expert emergency management is essential to the safety of staff, patients, and the hospital’s financial security. Managers must be sure their facilities are prepared?
Scott Cormier is vice president of emergency management, environment of care and safety wth Medxcel Facilities Management. The firm specializes in facilities management, safety, environment of care and emergency management. It also provides health care service support products and drives in-house capabilities, saving and efficiencies for health care organizations that improve the overall healing environment for patients and staff. Cormier leads the development and implementation of emergency management, general safety, security, fire protection, life safety and accident-prevention programs for a national network of hospitals the firm serves.