Is your hospital ready for severe weather, including hurricanes?
One of the toughest jobs in healthcare administration is anticipating worst-case scenarios, with weather playing a big role. Every storm is unique and impacts to your region will vary, but it's safe to assume that a severe storm will require a plan for protecting current patients and bracing for an influx of storm-related injuries. To prepare your facility for the next storm, here are the five main challenges you should consider.
1. In a storm, people seek shelter, and the safety and security of a hospital provides a solution.
The integrity of your building is of utmost importance, so fortifying your infrastructure and ensuring communication lines remain open is key. During a storm, one major concern revolves around power and water, especially where there are flood risks. As hospitals are required to have generators to produce at least 96 hours of power, essential maintenance of these systems should be performed regularly by engineers. In the event of a power outage, it helps to have good relationships with your utility providers so that expectations about power supply can be managed. At the same time, staff need alternate means of communication if telecoms go out. Managers can supply other options in preparation, such as radios, but training employees to use these alternatives is as important as supplying them. These preparatory measures can be done well in advance of storm season, and reviews should take place after each event to better prepare for the next one.
2. Employee expectations are critical when training and preparing staff for a disaster response, bringing us to our second consideration: employee shortage.
Having the right amount and mix of staff is crucial to provide patient care and keep operations running smoothly. Reliable weather data can be used to advise staff when they will be needed, anticipating fluctuating patient capacity and medical needs, and when they can safely travel to and from work. A longer lead time with hurricanes means that staff can be better prepared to secure their homes, gather supplies, and ensure their family’s safety before reporting to work, if possible. Emergency protocols should factor in adequate staffing and be bolstered by accurate weather forecasts.
3. With staffing pre-planned, the priority shifts to protecting lives in your facility—patient and employee safety on-site.
All staff become vital emergency workers during these events, meaning that every individual must be trained to understand their responsibilities when actioning protocol. Training should involve drills so that employees know what to expect in a real situation and any problems with protocol can be fixed. Real-time, site-specific storm updates enable departments to coordinate the well-being of patients and employees. This may be moving patients to a safer area in a building or cancelling any non-critical procedures. To stay ahead of a storm, you can have up-to-the-minute, 24-hour weather data and set up instant notifications to ensure your decision making is based on the right information at the right time.
4. If your hospital is the only functional emergency room in an area hit by a hurricane, you need to be prepared for an influx of patients following the event.
A storm might not always impact your hospital, but it may indirectly stress your service. This means adding more staff to the schedule and even pre-empting the kinds of cases that will present for care, such as infections or hypothermia caused by swimming through dirty water.
5. Have the right amount of emergency supplies on-hand.
Hospitals are required to have four days’ worth of supplies on hand, from bed linens to stocks in the blood center. As we saw with Hurricane Harvey, a five- to six-day event is not unheard of, with impacts being felt beyond the initial event. Additional supplies may be needed to keep a center running. It’s a good idea to have several emergency supply providers on stand-by, who can make deliveries immediately before or after an event, even if normal means of delivery are blocked. Anticipate changing weather through accurate forecast notifications to help predict your supply needs. Working collaboratively within your region and with other hospitals can also help in the sharing of supplies when deliveries are delayed.
With these factors in mind, you can be well on your way to handling dangerous weather events. We know it’s not easy to make timely decisions in these difficult situations, so make sure you have data, such as accurate weather insight, you can trust. Courtland Keith is an Industry Manager for StormGeo. A meteorologist with degrees from Texas A&M University, she specializes in helping healthcare companies leverage weather intelligence to maximize operational effectiveness and safeguard patients and employees.
Originally published in Medical Journal Houston