In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, an unprecedented storm that has dropped more than 50 inches of rain in parts of Houston, and has made a second landfall in Louisiana, it is difficult not to think about how organizations should react to a disaster of this magnitude and whether your own organization would be prepared for a similar scenario.
Major storms such as Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012, have revealed gaps in emergency planning in many healthcare organizations. Many have taken on the challenge of building out better emergency plans, including having digital backups for health records and using new technologies to improve response to disasters.
Audrey Couvillion, MBA, FACMPE, MGMA member, care transformation consultant, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, Belle Chasse, La., described how her previous practice in New Orleans was affected by Hurricane Katrina for her Fellowship paper, and how, despite having an emergency plan, it took two years for the practice to fully return to its original home.
Most respondents to an Aug. 29 MGMA Stat poll say they have an emergency preparedness plan, while 18% reported that they did not.
Many organizations have learned from experience what they need to be prepared: A number of respondents cited an unexpected disaster or emergency as the reason they established their plan. “We created a disaster recovery plan after a massive power outage that affected our operations,” explained one respondent.
Another said their plan “was prepared in response to our office being flooded in 2011, so it’s 100% accurate, all learned the hard way!”
Those who have a plan in place report that their plans cover various situations, including hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, power outages, active shooters and other emergency scenarios, and say they test their plans on a regular basis.
Those who do not have an emergency preparedness plan in place for a variety of potential scenarios should consider taking steps to implement an emergency strategy. The primary questions an emergency plan should address, according to Owen Dahl, FACHE, CHBC, LSSMBB, consultant, MGMA Health Care Consulting Group, in The Medical Practice Disaster Planning Workbook, include:
- What needs to be done
- When it needs to be done
- How it needs to be done
- Who should do it
Dahl recommends that practice leaders take on the development of a disaster plan and include appropriate staff members throughout the process. “The team should have clearly defined objectives and should include representatives from the business side as well as the clinical side of the practice,” Dahl writes.
If you are having difficulty finding the time to do this planning, Dahl recommends having a planning retreat where the necessary staff can focus their attention on the process. “Once completed, the plan should be written and should include ways to review and evaluate it once it has been implemented and to assess key points along the way,” he explains.1
You can also take lessons from organizations who have been through major disasters about what essentials your emergency plan should consider:
- Even the best-laid communication plans among internal and community partners can be improved, and it often takes a real-life emergency to pinpoint weak spots in plans.
- All area resources that can be utilized in an emergency should be identified. Map out logistics for ensuring that wireless communication, water, food, bedding, linens, fuel for generators and other items can be brought quickly on-site.
- Emergency exercises should be coordinated carefully with local authorities.
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- Reprinted with permission from, Owen Dahl, The Medical Practice Disaster Planning Workbook, Greenbranch Publishing, 800-933-3711.