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Special report: Planning for the unlikely

by Carol Ko, Staff Writer | August 28, 2013
From the August 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

In an ideal world, according to The Joint Commissions’ Mills, the community would create a command center that would direct the flow of patients during an emergency, gathering information from various hospitals about how many beds they have and how many patients they’d be able to take. In reality, the EMS usually has different relationships with different hospitals, resulting in an inefficient distribution of patients during an emergency.

“It’s always tempting for EMS providers to always take their sickest patients to the closest hospital even though self-treating patients will also go and overwhelm it. You need good discipline and good communication to distribute patients across all the available hospitals,” says Biddinger.

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Dr. Nick Cagliuso,
Corporate Director Emergency Management,
Continuum Health Partners, (center)

Good communication is also crucial when it comes to dealing with the practical logistics behind disaster management. Most hospitals get their supplies from the same vendors, so when a largescale weather event such as Hurricane Sandy strikes the region, all the hospitals compete for the same resources from the same vendors who now have significant logistics problems to overcome to deliver supplies. “Unless you can access resources by foot, just plan as though it doesn’t exist,” says Nicholas Cagliuso, corporate director of emergency preparedness at Continuum Partners.

In the past, hospitals focused on emergency response as it relates to serving the community — but what if the hospital itself is the site of the emergency, as it was during Hurricane Katrina? “That was a wakeup call for a lot of people,” says NYU’s Stevens.

Within the emergency preparedness field there’s been a push in recent years to think not only in traditional emergency response terms but also to plan around the concept of business continuity—that is, ensuring that systems within the hospital are running when it’s impacted by a catastrophic event.

Stevens cites an example from a few years ago — a steam pipe explosion in midtown, New York blocked access to buildings in the city that provide essential supplies and services. “Events like this bring up the question of how you will you provide those services and care for patients. Emergency management would have focused on [an event like] a fire in your building, but business continuity goes into what to do if you can’t provide your normal services. We’re definitely moving more and more in that direction,” says Stevens.

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