Lessons Learned: Healthcare Best Practices for Disaster Preparedness

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Every healthcare facility has a disaster plan, but the size and scope of those can vary greatly. The most forward-thinking hospitals have a comprehensive strategy that includes everything from physical drills focused on specific events to documentation covering everything from vendor contacts and employee schedules to paper backups for electronic systems.

In short, when it comes to emergency preparedness, more is better. That’s the lesson many hospitals, along with their administrators, physicians, and clinicians learned when a pair of hurricanes bore down on Texas and Florida within days of each other last August and September. As they faced the wrath of Harvey and Irma, providers remained calm, putting plans into action and making sure patients and communities were served before, during, and after impact.

We recently spoke with multiple TeamHealth administrators and physicians who worked tirelessly to care for patients before, during, and after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Here, they offer some suggestions for disaster preparation and response:

Dr. Mary Haven Merkle, Senior Vice President of Integrated Services for TeamHealth West:

  • Bring in enough clinicians to shelter in place in the hospitals, then do what it takes to get them relief. Organize that same effort pre-emptively.
  • Create robust two-way communications structure at all levels.
  • Have a process to track down every employee until 100 percent are accounted for. Those calls from TeamHealth did a lot to engender loyalty in our providers and employees, not to mention my own peace of mind as a senior leader in Houston.
  • Start elements of command and control off-site or be ready to take them off-site if the event is of any length.
  • Have ‘down-time’ procedures for schedule and payroll when usual procedures are disrupted.
  • Support the creative and solution-oriented ER physician teams.

Rob Evans, Executive Vice President of TeamHealth Southeast:

  • Make sure people have time off to go home, fix what was damaged, and have a mental reset from everything.
  • Be proactive; check and double-check resources.
  • Learn from each event and apply that learning to your base of knowledge.
  • Connectivity is vital. Be sure that you can get in touch with FEMA, federal agencies, local government agencies, and executive leadership within the organization, at a moment’s notice. Decisions have to be made very quickly, and being able to access those people or agencies helps you translate those decisions into access on the ground.

Dr. Steve Schwartz, Group President for TeamHealth Southeast:

  • Begin preparing several days ahead of the storm.
  • Have an organized checklist: supplies, generator integrity, supplies that staff sheltering at the facility will need, etc.
  • Even being able to tell someone that they can take their family, even their pet, to the hospital to ride out the storm, and have the creature comforts they need, will result in the best possible outcome for patients.
  • Connect with healthcare entities in the community who may evacuate to your hospital. See if they have generators and other supplies, and learn what their plan is if they flood or lose power.
  • Use redundant communications, so if phone, video, text, or email-blast communication goes out due to the storm, the others can allow effective communication to continue.

Matt Stapleton, Executive Vice President of TeamHealth Anesthesiology:

  • Be nimble; expect the unexpected.
  • Our command center team never said, ‘We can’t do that,’ or “That can’t be.” They said, “We didn’t see that coming, but we will get it done.”

This blog post excerpts an article in our complimentary eBook, Workforce Readiness: Preparing Today for Tomorrow’s Unknown. Download it here.