Health Care Emergency Preparedness: A Foundation to Community Resiliency

Matthew Icenroad

Emergency events have been increasing every year, prompting us to recognize the importance of emergency preparedness programs

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Emergency events across the globe have been increasing every year, prompting us to recognize the vital importance of emergency preparedness programs. The United States recently saw this with Hurricane Ian and its impact on communities and the health care industry. The question is, is the health care industry learning to be resilient in the face of emergency events – from extreme weather to workplace violence to worldwide pandemics?

Emergency Preparedness in Health Care

Observing the aftermath of Hurricane Ian and other tragedies, Dr. Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, offered his opinion on hospitals’ emergency preparedness. Adalja stated, “In most hospitals, emergency preparedness was often an afterthought, relegated to some minimally staffed office in some low-trafficked area of the hospital and largely out of sight.” He went on to say that executive leadership at hospitals “often viewed emergency preparedness as a box to be checked” and that “cycles of panic and neglect will never suffice if resiliency to the next emergency we face is the goal.”

While many health care organizations embrace resiliency, this dire assessment reminds us that many organizations still have a way to go. Dr. Adalja’s comments echo a 2018 report by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security which states, “few would argue that the current system [health care coalition program] is rationally designed or optimally effective or efficient.”

Seeing that they are a critical part of a health care organization’s infrastructure, it is essential that emergency preparedness programs move into the spotlight and not be treated as an afterthought compliance program. Emergency preparedness activities should be considered in operations processes and emergency practices as well as construction activities to ensure that environments are supportive of emergency operations, surges in patients, safety and security.

Mutual Aid Plans

Mutual aid plans and health care coalitions have an important role to play in bringing the industry to a more resilient place and improving emergency preparedness. “Mutual aid” is essentially an agreement among emergency responders to lend assistance across jurisdictional boundaries. This may occur when emergency response requirements exceed local resources, such as a disaster or multiple-alarm fire.

Based on the concept of mutual aid ("you help me, I’ll help you"), the Mutual Aid Plan (MAP) was developed by Jensen Hughes. We started the Long-Term Care Mutual Aid Plan in upstate New York in 1983 to meet the needs of nursing homes and assisted-living communities in this group, which were experiencing local and regional events that required them to evacuate their residents to other homes, share resources and communicate. There was no formal process in place to manage all that.

At its core, the power of the MAP comes from the membership – facilities that share a similar care type – that are committed to helping each other in their time of need. Since 1983, the mutual aid plan concept has expanded to multiple states as well as broadened to include organizations across the continuum of care to support each other, becoming contributors during emergencies rather than consumers. The expansion and innovation of these plans has also involved the digital transformation of coalition activities. Digital tools have applied technology in a clearly practical way to support members, groups, and agencies to facilitate a more effective and efficient response.

Digital Solutions for Emergency Management

Understanding the desire to protect what matters, in operations and across the built environment life cycle, Jensen Hughes has been providing emergency preparedness support to health care organizations, across the continuum of care, for over 45 years. We believe the intersection of digital innovation and emergency management practices provide significant value to the industry and together allow organizations, coalitions, and communities to build a foundation of safety, security, and resiliency. Learn more about how our digital solutions, such as ProtectAdvisr Emergency Management and Health Care Coalition (HCC) Management, can support the risk management needs of your health care organization.

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