Your 8-Step Checklist to Prepare Your Healthcare Facility for Severe Weather
Severe weather can strike at any time. Healthcare facilities must be prepared to provide continuity of care in spite of the many challenges that accompany severe weather. The 2017-2022 Health Care Preparedness and Response Capabilities identifies the following four capabilities as essential elements of emergency preparedness for healthcare organizations:
- Establishment of a foundation for healthcare and medical readiness
- Healthcare and medical response coordination
- Continuity of health care service delivery for patients
- A plan for a medical surge of patients who sustain injuries due to the severe weather
Maintaining continuity of care during a flood, tornado, or blizzard requires a strategic plan and collaboration among hospital stakeholders and employees. Below are eight steps healthcare facilities can take to ensure that these goals are met.
1) Assign responsible parties to handle critical tasks
“The responsibility for the EMP (Emergency Management Program) ultimately rests with the healthcare facility’s administration…In addition to someone to manage the program, a committee should be established to plan and review all activities conducted under the auspices of the EMP.”
– U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Lessons Learned Information Sharing
One of the first steps a healthcare organization should take is to delegate key tasks to stakeholders, management, and employees. In particular, an EMP should identify who will be responsible for the following tasks:
- Coordinating with local authorities such as the police and fire department
- Delivering official communications to employees and patients
- Making patient care decisions
2) Consider modifications in your hospital design
In 2016, Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System opened to replace the New Orleans Veterans Affairs Hospital that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. As outlined below, the new hospital is referred to as a “model of storm preparedness”:
“The 1.7 million-square foot facility takes into account the lessons learned by Katrina, which took the hospital out of service when two feet of water flooded its basement and knocked out its backup generator, according to Fast Company. Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health CarSystem’s generator and other critical electronics are located on a much higher floor. The emergency department is also on the second floor, accessible from a ramp that can also serve as a boat launch in case of a severe flood.”
– Ron Shinkman, Fierce Healthcare
As illustrated above, the most important elements to consider are the location of your emergency generators and your critical supplies. If these items are currently housed in the basement or ground floor of your hospital, you should consider moving them to a higher floor if space permits. This is especially the case if you live in a coastal area that is at higher risk for flooding.
3) Prepare a stockpile of water, food, and supplies
Maintaining a stockpile of food, water, and other supplies is vital to ensuring that patients and staff have sufficient resources to survive during a severe weather emergency. Some states, such as California, offer emergency food supply planning and toolkits to help hospitals with the following:
- Calculation of how much food will be needed
- Guidance on the type of food that is best to keep on hand for emergencies
- Tips for making sure that stored food complies with regulatory requirements
4) Prioritize key functions to ensure continuity of care
“Health care organizations should determine their priorities for ensuring key functions are maintained during an emergency, including the provision of care to existing and new patients. Facilities should determine those services that are critical to patient care and those that could be suspended. In addition, the HCC should have a plan to maintain its own operations.”
– Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)
Prioritizing hospital functions can become challenging during a severe weather emergency. Human resources are often depleted while the demand for healthcare services skyrockets. Establishing a list of priorities is vital to ensuring that healthcare organizations continue to function in an orderly fashion during a disaster.
5) Check backup generators on a regular basis
Most hospitals have at least one backup generator to use in case severe weather strikes. Unfortunately, researchers estimate that 23% of generators fail when needed during a power emergency. Healthcare systems can prevent this from happening by regularly inspecting and testing backup generators to ensure they are ready to operate when disaster strikes. Finally, make sure to keep plenty of fuel on hand to power your backup generators.
6) Make sure to keep plenty of portable medical equipment on hand
Nebraska Licensed Emergency Medical Services offers a checklist of equipment that is critical to maintaining patient care during severe weather emergencies. The list includes a variety of consumable items in addition to wound management items. Transport equipment, including the equipment below, is also recommended:
- Portable ventilators
- Battery operated suction pumps
- Transport monitors
7) Create a plan for staffing shortages
A study of hospital responsiveness during Hurricane Sandy revealed that 57 of 172 hospitals reported staffing challenges that included a shortage of clinical and nonclinical staff. Healthcare systems should have a plan in place to address anticipated staffing shortages that may result from road closures, fuel shortages, and inoperable public transit systems.
8) Put all severe weather procedures in writing and include them in employee training
Reviewing a severe weather action plan once or twice per year will do little to ensure that the staff has a strong working knowledge of your severe weather policies and procedures. Here are some tips to help make sure that you develop a user-friendly severe weather plan:
- Keep your plan as simple as possible
- Use concise, clear language
- Cover key points during the onboarding and training processes
- Post instructions in highly visible locations throughout the hospital
- Notify staff verbally and in writing of any revisions or changes to procedures
The Bottom Line
Preparing your hospital for severe weather requires collaboration among stakeholders, hospital executives, and frontline employees. Key roles and priorities should be clearly identified and emergency equipment and supplies should be well-maintained. By preparing a clear, concise severe weather plan, you can help ensure that your hospital provides continuity of care even when faced with the most challenging weather emergencies.