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Published On: Mon, Jul 1st, 2013

Disaster Recovery Services Standby for Hospitals during Hurricane Season

When Hurricane Katrina affected the Gulf Coast in 2005, a New Orleans hospital found out too late that its emergency backup generators didn’t work and that there was no way to evacuate its patients. Rescue helicopters did not arrive for two days. The aftermath of the hospital’s unpreparedness included 45 deaths and a $25 million lawsuit. Disaster restoration companies state that up to 25 percent of the hospitals meet 90 percent of the standards listed in the National Hospital Preparedness Program (http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/05/20110505a.html). As disaster recovery services standby to assist hospitals, they urge health care facilities to not be complacent about disaster preparedness.

How should hospitals prepare for a hurricane? Hurricane Isaac NASA photo

How should hospitals prepare for a hurricane?
Hurricane Isaac NASA photo

How Hospitals Prepare for Hurricane Season

In the aftermaths of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, hospitals are learning more about their vulnerabilities. The following are measures that some health care facilities take to prepare for a storm:

  • Work with a professional disaster restoration company to create an emergency preparedness plan.
  • Develop a transportation plan for patients with special needs, like bariatric patients or those with disabilities.
  • Implement and review the plan to evacuate and/or receive patients.
  • Encase fuel pumps on lower levels in concrete in the event of a storm surge.
  • Install new generators on an upper level.
  • Test the emergency generators.
  • Regularly train staff.
  • Make sure there are enough supplies for three days, such as pharmacy supplies, blood supplies, water, generator fuel, clothes and food.
  • Tie down construction equipment.
  • Move helicopters off-site.

How Hospitals Can Protect Staff and Still Care for Patients

Disaster restoration companies remind health care facilities that caring for its staff during a time of need is just as important as caring for its patients. The following are techniques that some hospitals use:

  • Only enlist essential personnel when the hospital declares an emergency status during a hurricane.
  • Set up a pet shelter and daycare facility for hospital workers.
  • Set up an area where hospital staff members and their families can sleep overnight, even if they are not on shift during part of the time.
  • Provide workers with a checklist of items to bring during the time they are sheltered at the hospital.
  • Give workers a timeline of when the hospital will stop accepting patients, begin evacuations and resume normal procedures.

Disaster Prevention

Disaster recovery services urge hospitals to form a disaster planning committee with a representative from every department, including the administration, security, nursing, communications, public relations, medical records, maintenance, laboratory, radiology, emergency room and operating room management departments.

This committee should identify the hospital’s vulnerabilities and create an action plan to reduce the risks. When creating and assessing patient evacuation procedures, it’s a good idea to set criteria based on a health status, risk level, housing status and geographic location.

During the planning process, a hospital may find it beneficial to collaborate with an out-of-area health care facility that could assist with personnel, equipment, supplies and other needs.

Each department should conduct drills and have a checklist to help its employees prepare for a hurricane. Items on a checklist can include:

  • Unplugging computers and other electronics and covering them with plastic bags in the event of a roof leak.
  • Testing flood protections systems.
  • Moving essential equipment and documents on the first floor and basement to upper levels of the hospital.
  • Taking an inventory of assets as well as photographs.
  • Moving the patients who are staying in rooms with windows.

In the attempt to keep patients safe, it’s easy for a hospital to forget to add a disaster recovery plan in addition to their emergency preparedness plan. A recovery plan helps personnel know when restoration actions should begin and the professionals to call to assess the hospital’s damage, like disaster restoration services, insurance agents, safety inspectors and contractors.

Disaster Restoration Tips

  • Call a disaster restoration service as soon as possible to ensure the health and safety of patients and workers, to clean and dry documents and prevent mold problems.
  • Keep emergency disaster kits in designated areas. Include an updated list of important phone numbers and in-house extension numbers in each kit.
  • Complete a damage assessment and make a video or take photos.
  • Place wet documents and other wet items in a dry room as soon as possible.
  • Know how to access electronic files and electronic medical records saved off-site if a computer system breaks-down.

 

A hurricane isn’t an event that lasts just a few days. It’s an event that requires several hours of preparations and sometimes weeks of recovery. By knowing what to expect and planning ahead, a hospital gives its patients and workers the best outcome possible.

This blog post is courtesy of Polygon, which provides disaster recovery services for businesses nationwide. Restoration services include flood and fire cleanup, mold remediation and document cleaning & drying.

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