Emergency prep: C-suite's role in a disaster

Abstract photo of a crime scene

With random acts of violence and natural disasters grabbing frequent headlines, hospitals must have a plan in place to prepare for a potentially large-scale influx of patients or to spend hours trapped without access to critical supplies.

Although many hospitals have disaster plans, a recent survey found 51 percent of 1,859 doctors in the United States don't think their organizations are prepared to handle mass emergencies.
 

“Healthcare facilities face a never-ending challenge in preparing for disasters or pandemics and can never be too prepared."

-- David Marcelletti, Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic's hospitals train staff for potential emergencies that are common to their regions, such as hurricanes in Florida. But the organizations have guidelines in place for any range of potential problems, says David Marcelletti, vice chair of supply chain operations.

The greatest challenge, he says, is trying to prepare for the disasters that can snowball from a large event.

And it’s impossible to be 100 percent prepared for everything, especially as readiness must change as the industry manages potential emerging threats, such as Ebola and the Zika virus.

“Healthcare facilities face a never-ending challenge in preparing for disasters or pandemics and can never be too prepared,” Marcelletti says.

Martie Moore
Martie Moore

The need for better emergency planning has come to the forefront, especially with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services giving hospitals a nudge in that direction, Martie Moore, R.N., chief nursing officer for medical supply manufacturer Medline Industries.

“All hospitals need to be prepared,” she tells FierceHealthcare. “You have to change your thinking.”

Moore learned that lesson when she was working as CNO for Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon.

A massive snowstorm left the hospital isolated, so leaders had to be prepared for all angles of that disaster, including that fact that they might need to contact vendors to replace supplies that were running low.

Supply-chain concerns, she says, can be lost in the shuffle when planning for a potential disaster.

“Emergency preparedness today is much more complex than ever before. Our customers are faced with increasing pressures to contain costs due to reduced reimbursement.”

-- Brian Bevers, Medline

But even if managers do consider the potential supply chain concerns that can crop up in an emergency, the other demands placed on operations make it hard to be constantly ready, says Brian Bevers, vice president of operations for Medline, a medical supply manufacturer.

“Emergency preparedness today is much more complex than ever before. Our customers are faced with increasing pressures to contain costs due to reduced reimbursement,” Bevers says. “And, at the same time, they must invest their capital directly in patient care to improve outcomes. That could compromise their ability to remain properly equipped with the necessary resources for an emergency.”

To develop an effective emergency preparedness plan, Moore says hospitals must first start with a risk assessment to determine the types of disasters that they’re more likely to face as well as the types of injuries or conditions that are common in those situations.

The plan must include staff members at all levels, she said. Designated staff members must be in charge of the program and man the central command center to ensure accountability during times of crisis.

“Leaders must acknowledge the fact that healthcare providers are human beings and with our humanity comes the need for us to acknowledge that we’re not immune to what we’re seeing.”

-- Martie Moore, Medline

Those leaders don’t necessarily have to be the facilities’ top staff, she says. Often C-suite members are more effective as community leaders during a disaster rather than serving as hospital team leaders. During a disaster, they can help keep the public calm, Moore says.

Part of preparation is ensuring hospital leaders are empathetic and ready to support the emotional needs of staff members during a disaster, according to Moore. Healthcare workers can be vulnerable to stress in these situations so leaders and managers must consider their emotional needs during an emergency.

“Leaders must acknowledge the fact that healthcare providers are human beings and with our humanity comes the need for us to acknowledge that we’re not immune to what we’re seeing,” Moore says.

Marcelletti agrees. The support is important because “neighbors, friends and family are likely patients” during a disaster.