Emergency Management Programs in Health Care – Planning for When Bad Days Happen

Bobby Baker + Jim Garrow

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Sep 23, 2022

Power grid failure, severe weather impact, hazardous materials release, another pandemic - Oh My!!! Bad days of all kinds happen in our society and healthcare facilities are not immune from these events. All healthcare facilities, small to large, high acuity to those providing general nursing care should strive to be High Reliability Organizations (HRO) and develop and practice their emergency management programs. Take an incident that recently occurred at an assisted living community, for example. A sprinkler pipe burst, flooding their clinical areas and mechanical room. Fortunately, they had a comprehensive emergency management program and operations plan, making them better prepared for the event they experienced.

Emergency Management Programs in Health Care

Many often consider health care facilities the light on the hill during the darkest hours due to their planning, resources, and ability to continue to care for their patients and residents in the face of adversity. Staff, current patients and residents, their families, and the community look to health care facilities ready to provide for the sick and injured.

But how can facilities plan for the next adverse event? The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as other accrediting bodies, all require some facet of risk stratification and planning. Consequently, emergency management programs are implemented to assess and mitigate risks where possible and provide a process for continuous planning and preparation for incident response and recovery. From risk assessments involving local community partners to training and exercising of staff, emergency management can encompass a significant amount of time and resources.

Incorporating an All-Hazards Approach

Creating an emergency management program that incorporates all-hazards planning, and supplemented by event specific plans, is paramount to helping guide the facility’s response. An all-hazards approach is an integrated approach to emergency preparedness planning that considers the full spectrum of emergencies and disasters. It requires prior thought, frequent assessment, planning, and continual revision and updates and should incorporate approaches that are broad enough to be applicable within multiple types of incidents (e.g., hurricane or building lockdown). This is unlike event specific plans which are more detailed in their guidance to address known risks, including electronic health record system failure, loss of fire protection systems, earthquakes, and more.

Implementing Successful Emergency Response Plans

Just writing plans is not enough if they are never adopted or utilized. The above-mentioned assisted living facility responded and recovered successfully because they actively implemented robust emergency management plans, which guided them in establishing their command center, managing internal flooding and power loss, and evacuating the building. Additionally, their full building evacuation plan (FBE) provided the leadership team and staff with pre-established tools for success, including job action sheets, resident preparation guides, and floor plans that identified stairwells for resident evacuation and for staff and first responders to travel up.

The assisted living facility’s staff and residents were also trained, tested, and ready to respond. Although it can be challenging, continuous staff training on implementing plans and processes is essential for a successful response and recovery. Drills, exercises, and other approaches help prepare staff and validate training and identify additional gaps.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

Have you taken all the steps to plan for, respond to and recover from your next bad day? If not, Jensen Hughes can assist in developing and optimizing your customized Emergency Management Program. We provide the tools you need to manage your next adverse event successfully.