Preparing for the Storm – By: Mary Ellen Pratt, FACHE, CEO
Natural disasters and emergency weather incidents leave us feeling scared and unsafe, but we want you to know that your local hospital works hard year-round to be as prepared as possible to help even when unplanned disasters strike.
The Calm Before the Storm
Annually, the hospital evaluates the risk of potential disasters (whether natural or man-made) and prioritizes the areas of greatest vulnerability. These events are the focus of our preparedness efforts. When developing our response plans, we work with local agencies such as law enforcement, fire departments, EMS and parish offices of emergency preparedness. Together, we test plans by conducting emergency response drills. We also work with local industry and have planned and tested our joint response to disasters such as explosions and chemical releases. Most recently, we participated in a mock explosion drill with Noranda.
As a hospital, our key role is to anticipate medical needs and coordinate resources to respond. Disasters generally result in a large number of patients coming to the Emergency Room. To manage this influx, we have developed a plan to “surge within the walls” of the hospital. By repurposing space, we are able to double the capability and capacity of our ER. We have not only tested this plan in drills, but we have also executed it during disasters such as Hurricane Isaac.
In the Eye of the Storm
Severe weather alerts are not taken lightly at the hospital. When our area is threatened, we begin planning. Our first priority is the safety of patients and staff. Secondly, we want to be ready to handle the medical needs of our community. We assess our current status with regard to inpatients, outpatient scheduled procedures and clinics appointments. We consider our staffing schedules and adjust so employees can come to work and leave when it is safe to be on the roads. When we learned of the most recent tornados, we entered into Incident Command—an emergency-based leadership strategy—and began to deplore our surge plan. Physicians, surgeons and staff were called in to be ready. We were able to stay calm and effective during this disaster, because we work year-round to sharpen our response skills.
After disasters we review how we responded—what worked well, what can be improved—so that next time, we are even better and more prepared. We also participate in a regional critique with the Louisiana Emergency Response Network and the Emergency Support Function 8 (ESF) Health and Medical Response Coalition for Region 3. In addition, we determine how we can help those affected. This year, we offered free tetanus vaccines to St. James Parish Emergency Responders involved in clean-up efforts.
Although natural disasters are acts of God and in theory we can never fully prepare, we owe it to you to do our best. Many of the patients we care for during these trying times are our friends and family and we want you to know we take this responsibility very seriously. We will continue to train, drill practice, reflect and review so that when our community needs us, we are ready.
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