Catastrophic Medical Surge Preparation: Taking the First Steps

Jim Garrow

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Nov 18, 2019

When a disaster occurs, hospitals and healthcare facilities are almost always on the front line. Whether it’s a natural disaster, mass casualty incident, fire in another area of the facility or a healthcare facility evacuation, any situation that involves sick or injured people require hospitals to be at the ready. And yet, many facilities operate at almost-full capacity year-round and many struggle with improving patient flow. So how do you provide services to a sudden influx of patients after an unexpected major event? And even if you have a plan, is it the right one?

While events like the ones described above are scary, there are ways for healthcare facilities to prepare and manage a sudden patient surge event. A medical surge event refers to the ability of healthcare facilities to provide adequate medical evaluation and care during events that exceed the limits of the normal medical infrastructure of an impacted community. This includes the ability of the healthcare organization to survive a hazard and maintain or rapidly recover operations that were compromised.

The first steps in preparing to manage a catastrophic medical surge is assessing and determining the best process to effectively use “space” along with the resources & assets to support any type of surge.

Main Areas of Focus

So, if you’re a healthcare facility, where should you start? The first step, no matter your situation, is to conduct a self-assessment. It helps you to determine where you stand, how prepared you are, and where potential weaknesses are. Once you’ve completed your self-assessment, you can take the next step by identifying:

  • Space: Specific spaces and areas that can be used in the event of a patient surge. Factors to consider include long-term surge, continuity of care and overall life safety.
  • Staff: Staffing requirements for identified surge areas. Staff-to-patient ratios, staff recall processes and emergency credentialing & privileging should be considered.
  • Stuff: Number of beds and equipment requirements for the identified surge areas.
  • Policies & Procedures: Proper policies and procedures that should be followed or adopted in the event of a patient surge event.

These four “building blocks”, if followed, should give you a good foundation to address a sudden, unexpected surge event. While this is a good start, there are other considerations regarding the spaces or areas a healthcare organization chooses to “surge” into. Continuity of care is an important one – will patients who need to be moved into these new areas still receive the same quality of care as other areas of the hospital? Infection control and prevention is also critical, and a lack of control can turn an overwhelming patient surge situation into an impossible one. Finally, a focus on life safety and environment of care ensures patients and staff safety is at the center of any medical surge.

After taking the free self-assessment, you’ll better understand where your healthcare facility stands in the baseline preparedness for a surge event. From there, steps can be taken to develop a process, select and customize tools, train your staff and conduct exercises.