You can't take care of emergency preparedness twice a year and be done with it. It isn't a routine appointment. Rather, emergency preparedness is an ongoing analysis of vulnerabilities. And like the seasons, they are always changing.
The No. 1 priority for healthcare professionals is to achieve the best possible patient outcomes—including keeping your patients and colleagues safe in clinical and home environments. However, unexpected natural disasters, acts of terrorism or disease outbreaks can derail this goal. This National Preparedness Month, take one minute per day to consider each of the following healthcare organization emergency preparedness tips.
- Test your disaster plan fitness. When was the last time you participated in your healthcare organization’s annual disaster exercise? Are you familiar with your hospital’s emergency preparedness plan? If the details are murky, read through the plan and identify your role and responsibilities. It may not be a fun read, but revisiting it periodically could save lives.
- Don't get left in the dark. If you had to evacuate your department with patients, could you do so safely? Ask yourself: Where are accessible stairs? Could you find them if your building lost power? Enlighten yourself by becoming aware of your healthcare organization's available emergency evacuation resources, such as emergency egress lighting.
- Exit stage right. If faced with a hospital evacuation, what would you take with you? Do your colleagues know who should evacuate first and who should evacuate each patient? Discuss this with your manager and colleagues to ensure everyone is on the same page.
- Throw yourself a personal life preserver. The most common natural hazard is flooding. You may think a flood will never affect you, but heavy rains, a broken drain pipe or a sudden storm surge can lead to flooding. Identify travel routes and areas that have flooded or could easily flood so that you can make an informed travel decision if faced with a flood.
- Be ready with lights, camera, power. Healthcare professionals are taught to plug critical equipment into red plugs, emergency power outlets, in the event routine power is interrupted. But consider the critical devices (IV pumps, cardiac monitors, ventricular assist devices) your patients are currently using. Don't assume your healthcare organization is using backup power. Discuss this with your manager or your building engineer department.
- Be cool for the summer. Moving from patient to patient with electronic equipment constantly on, it can get hot. Now imagine your healthcare organization losing HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) during a disaster. Is there a plan in place? It may sound trivial, but ensure your healthcare organization's ice machine and fans have backup power. Cardiovascular disease patients are particularly vulnerable to temperature change.
- Talk it out. The power is out. While this sound of silence may be initially blissful, it raises a question of patient safety. Do your patients have a way to call for help? Find out if telephones are in all patient rooms or if your healthcare organization has other means of communicating without power.
- There's always more to say. If phones lines are down, can you still be contacted? Do you carry a pager? Check to see if your department has an emergency call list with cell phone numbers.
- Baby, it’s cold/hot outside! If you were to find yourself in a hospital evacuation, how would you deal with the elements? Check to see if there's a safe shaded or covered area outside for patients. Being cold, wet or overly hot is not ideal for patients, especially those with heart failure.
- Stay thirsty. In a power failure or regional disaster, water supply can be limited. Do you store water in your locker? Check to see if your healthcare organization stores an emergency water supply for patients and staff.
- Herd your cats. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) has proposed regulations for hospitals and 17 health care entities that will dramatically impact how emergency preparedness planning and response is carried out. The new rules take effect at the end of December 2016, and one of the provisions is the ability to account for patients and staff during an evacuation. Ensure you know your healthcare organization's procedure.
- Make a "gotta go" plan. An unpleasant flood result can be sanitary sewer system failure. If the sewer backs up or toilets don’t work, what’s your plan? How will your healthcare organization handle human waste in addition to medical waste? An upcoming CMS regulation provisions addresses this very issue.
- Have a sleepover. If winter storms or other unexpected conditions prohibit you from traveling home, do you have personal supplies in your desk or locker? This may include personal hygiene supplies, medicine and a change of “you know what” (remember what Mom said). All of these things can be compactly stowed in a plastic bag.
- Stay charged. If you have teenagers in your life, you know the most common excuse for not checking in: a dead cell phone. What happens if you are delayed at work, or even worse, unable to get into work? Keep a spare charger in your car and at work.
- Throwback to the 90s. Unlike the era before almost everyone had a cell phone, most people don't have important phone numbers memorized or written down. But what if you don't have access to or lose your cell phone? Grab an index card and write down important phone numbers of your loved ones and colleagues.