Docs split on hospitals’ readiness to handle mass emergencies

Emergency room sign

In the wake of terrorist attacks and natural disasters around the world, hospitals now train staff on how to handle the influx of patients in such situations. However, a recent poll suggests many doctors don't think their systems will be ready for a mass emergency.

Indeed, physicians are decidedly split on the issue, according to the poll conducted by SERMO, a social networking site for doctors. The survey, which includes responses from more than 3,500 doctors from across the world, found that 50 percent of respondents believe the health system in their area would be ready to handle a disaster situation.

But 51 percent of the 1,859 U.S. physicians who participated in the survey said they don't think their health systems are prepared to deal with a large-scale emergency or the wounded. 

European physicians are more confident in their facilities. Sixty-one percent of French physicians, 78 percent of Danish doctors, 61 percent of Spanish doctors and 55 percent of Italian doctors said that their local systems would be ready.

One U.S. physician who responded to the survey told Becker’s Hospital Review that because hospitals must operate at 90 to 95 percent capacity to turn a profit, there is often little room for the potential crush of patients after a disaster. Hospital staff cuts are also a concern for disaster preparedness plans, according to the doctor. “Many hospitals here are already ready to snap, let alone handle a catastrophe,” the doctor told Becker’s.

Recent tragedies like the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, terrorist attacks in Belgium and Paris, and 2012’s devastating tornado in Missouri have led U.S. hospitals to review their own disaster preparedness plans. After the attacks in Brussels, some hospital officials expressed concerns that federal budget cuts would leave training and supplies insufficient.

Federal mandates for emergency preparedness plans have left many smaller providers in a pinch, and hospitals have pushed back against such regulations, saying they are too costly.

Emergency preparedness training for staff is a key tenet for a readiness plan and this week the Emergency Nurses Association will host a simulated mass casualty incident as part of the Emergency Nursing 2016 conference. The training, according to an announcement from ENA, will help prepare participating nurses for a real-world situation. Last year, organizers surprised conference participants by conducting a realistic active shooter drill. 

"In providing realistic, intense training, participants not only learn how to respond when disaster strikes, but how to manage for the stresses and traumatic experiences that come with them," Daniel Nadworny, R.N., the clinical director of operations at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who oversaw last year’s drill, said in the announcement.