hospital emergency

How Hospitals Create Unbreakable Supply Chains During Storms

Apr 22, 2016

When a blizzard or hurricane strikes, city hall may be leveled and stores may have to close, but the hospital stays open 24/7.

And while hospitals are required to be stocked and self-sufficient for up to 96 hours, that doesn't mean all of those supplies are on site. In fact, most hospitals and healthcare facilities have off-site supply warehouses.

But getting to that off-site warehouse during a major weather event raises transportation questions that need to be answered in advance. What happens in the case of flooded or snow-packed roads? In the eye of the storm, advanced preparation is the key to keeping the supply chain intact.

Know what's coming.

It's sometimes impossible to predict if a weather-related event will impact just the local supply chain or an entire region.

Let's consider a hypothetical example: Metro Hospital serves a region that surrounds a major river. The spring rise on the river is expected to top flood stage in two weeks — so the weather event is expected. Supplies to the hospital, however, are transported on two highways that frequently flood, so these supply-line issues are anticipated in Metro's emergency plan.

Major flooding upstream from Metro Hospital could cause adverse impacts to the regional transportation system. That's why hospital consortiums and cooperative agreements can make or break the supply chain — and should be explored well in advance.

Site-specific weather data keeps the supply chain unbroken, even when a weather-related disaster hits. Throughout a tornado or during a hurricane, you gain time when you're able to identify and forecast (via data) when and where the weather will impact transportation routes and suppliers.

Great weather data aids in hour-by-hour preparation for a patient surge and provides time to roll out emergency plans. For example, if a hospital keeps a 24-hour supply on site, it can request an early drop shipment of 48 hours or 72 hours in case of a known event.

Have plans in place.

First and foremost, your emergency plan should spell out exactly who is in charge of what in the case of a weather-related emergency. Key personnel should be charged with taking, analyzing, and sending supply requests to the proper supply systems. The emergency plan should cover all potential breaks in the supply chain before and during a weather event.

Plans should be in place for a patient surge, spell out supply triage protocol, and link the hospital with other emergency management systems. Your state and local emergency contacts link your hospital to fire departments, transportation departments, and a host of supply providers.

When the state requires a copy of your emergency plan, ensure that it's shared and that all responsibilities are clearly spelled out. This will save time and lives during the actual weather event.

Keep track, and start monitoring.

During a patient surge, key personnel should anticipate and notify the hospital's supply chain of needs for additional supplies, pharmaceuticals, and equipment. If things start to hit a snag, it's time to notify state emergency management services of your situation and keep the line open to facilitate regional coordination.

When resources are inadequate, complete a status report and make a formal request for aid. Then, track each and every request status — from acknowledgment to fulfillment. Also, record response times for each request, and be prepared with written proof if the request is not fulfilled as needed.

Don't forget plan B.

Of course, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. That's why a contingency plan has to be in place in case the original plan breaks down.

Let's say that after 48 hours, Metro is starting to track various shortages, and the hospital is starting to reach out to its suppliers. If the supply chain is currently broken — and for whatever reason, a primary provider isn't supplying the hospital — Metro will go to a secondary provider on emergency call. Thanks to careful planning, Metro Hospital had the logistics worked out in advance.

It's also a good idea to enlist non-medical vendors within the supply chain (such as local carrier companies) that can provide help transporting, handling, storing, or managing clinical resources.

It's difficult to prepare for all contingencies. But the more plans you have in place — and backups for those plans — the more likely your supply chain will be ready to weather the storm. The more you know about upcoming weather events, and the earlier you know it, the stronger your supply chain will be.


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