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Tips Hospital Leaders Can Use to Prepare for Disaster

By Thomas Gole, DO, FAAFP09 Jan 2017

Hos Lead.jpgTurn on the TV or open your internet browser and you’ll likely be confronted with a story or two about a local or national disaster. And while your hospital has likely prepared for disaster, it’s difficult to gauge how your staff will respond until it faces an adverse event.

When Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy struck in 2005 and 2011, there were severe breakdowns in patient care following the storms, according to The New York Times. As a result, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a new rule that requires over 72,000 healthcare suppliers and providers to meet federal disaster preparedness requirements.

The rule will “make it more likely that facilities will be able to stay open and able to care for patients, and if they need to close or stop work temporarily, get back up and able to care for patients quickly,” Dr. Nicole Lurie, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, told The New York Times.

Whether it’s an event that allows you to plan ahead — like a hurricane or blizzard — or a sudden issue like an active shooter, tornado or utility failure, these tips can help you ensure your staff and patients are safe.

Perform a Risk Assessment: Start by considering what kind of disasters your facility could face. Are you located in Tornado Alley? Is your facility along the Eastern Seaboard where there is the possibility of severe snowstorms and hurricanes?

When creating your plan, include staff at all levels as well as note which staff members are in charge of programs or who will man a central command operation.

Prepare at Home: While it’s a given that you’d take steps to prepare for an emergency at your facility, many leaders forget to secure their homes and families. This kind of advanced planning, notes Becker’s Hospital Review, helps provide you peace of mind and allows you to better focus on the needs of your staff and patients.

Consider the Emotional Needs of Staff: Treating physical ailments and injuries is to be expected during a disaster. However, emotional needs are an often-overlooked element during a traumatic event.

“Healthcare workers can be vulnerable to stress in these situations so leaders and managers must consider their emotional needs during an emergency,” Martie Moore, CNO at Medline tells FierceHealthcare.

In fact, 20 percent of emergency nurses were found to have post-traumatic stress disorder following Hurricane Katrina.

Help your staff cope with stress during and after a disaster by:

  • Clearly defining individual roles and reassessing them if the situation changes
  • If possible, rotating workers from high-stress areas to lower-stress areas
  • Establishing respite areas away from treatment or triage areas
  • Allowing time off for anyone who experienced trauma or loss
  • Providing counseling after the event
  • Offering self-care activities

Conduct Training or Drills: Holding training programs helps ensure a systematic, coordinated response during an emergency. Include all medical and non-medical staff as well as volunteers in your efforts, as well as different situations your facility could experience.

While you can’t predict the future, planning and preparing for a variety of disaster situations as well as considering the mental health needs of your staff, can help make sure your facility is operating as smoothly as possible.

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