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Advance preparation helps avoid patient care disruption

By Cathy Denning

The new year brings little relief to hospitals across the country who continue to battle the most virulent strain of the flu in recent record—a staggering 17,101 influenza-associated hospitalizations from October 2017 to early February 2018.

This national epidemic comes directly on the heels of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season that devastated coastal communities and Puerto Rico. These adverse events strain hospital resources and staff who are responsible for a high volume of high-acuity patients. Shortages of critical medical supplies, like IV fluids and medical products primarily manufactured in Puerto Rico, place additional stress on the healthcare system.

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At Vizient, the country’s largest member-owned healthcare services company, we work shoulder-to-shoulder with hospitals to help prepare and support their efforts to maintain operations during catastrophic events. We do this by leveraging healthcare management expertise to provide hospitals with strategies to help reduce the risks associated with emergencies and other unpredictable events.

Hospitals understand the need for emergency preparedness plans. In fact, more than 97% of hospitals have a protocol in place for responding to natural disasters, specifically. The Joint Commission, a hospital accrediting body, requires hospitals to conduct emergency drills, which allow for the simulation of critical procedures. During these simulations, hospital staff and leadership practice how to maintain patient surge capacity, communicate with external health and public safety communities, and coordinate with nearby hospitals.

However, preparing for a crisis extends beyond conducting drills. We advise hospitals to maximize emergency readiness by following these additional steps:

Address operational vulnerabilities. Hospitals should review electrical, water, HVAC and plumbing systems, fire protection systems, and medical gases management. An electrical system must be able to generate power for critical operations for at least 96 hours.

Install redundant communication capabilities including multiple back-up communication modalities, such as two-way radios and fax machines, to be used if primary systems fail.

Reduce stress on hospital power systems through cogeneration, a process that produces heat and electricity from a single fuel source, such as natural gas or biomass. Hospitals can also conserve energy by identifying low- or no-cost alternatives to energy-intensive operations, like solar panels.

Rethink design of facility. For example, after Hurricane Katrina rendered the Veterans Affairs medical facility in New Orleans non-operational, hospital administrators took an “upside-down” approach to its redesign, putting the emergency department, electrical units and generators on the higher floors to avoid damage from flooding.

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