Disasters can happen anywhere, anytime. From wildfires, mudslides and hurricanes to floods, tornadoes and earthquakes, natural disasters can sometimes hit at a moment's notice.
That doesn't even include other disasters, emergencies and events that could grind your business to a halt, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic, a humanitarian crisis at the Texas border, power outages, hazardous materials incidents, civil unrest, mass shootings or bombings.
Many of these disasters significantly impact your healthcare organization, your patients, your employees, their families and the community you serve. That's where disaster preparedness comes into play.
It might help to look at disasters from this perspective: Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Consequence.1
So, the more you can do to reduce or eliminate the contributing factors to risk (threat, vulnerability, and/or consequences), the more you can reduce your risk. In viewing your risk this way, you act with due diligence on the elements that you can control.
While you might not be able to reduce the threat of disasters, you can take steps to reduce your facility's vulnerability by planning for emergencies. In doing so, you diminish both the short-term and long-term consequences and bolster your resilience in the aftermath of a disaster — thus reducing your risk.
A prudent organization should start preparing well before a disaster or crisis hits. Experts agree that advance planning and disaster preparedness can significantly impact your company's ability to effectively handle an emergency.
Ready to get started? Read on.
Create a disaster plan before a crisis strikes
If you haven't already, carve out time now, before a crisis strikes, to make a disaster plan for your practice or facility.
When it comes to disaster preparedness, winging it just isn't an option. How quickly your company can get back to business depends on the emergency planning done today.
Follow these emergency response guidelines to serve as your go-to action plan when a disaster strikes.
Six key elements to include in your disaster plan
1 | Prepare an office disaster kit
Assemble items in advance so you can provide basic medical care where necessary. This kit should include some essential medical supplies and equipment that you will store in a safe, easy-to-access location.
At a bare minimum, your kit should include the following:2
- Essential business documents
- Nonperishable food and bottled water
- Computer backups
- Flashlights with extra batteries
- Battery-powered radio
- Hand sanitizer and other infection prevention items
- Exam gloves and other essential personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Stethoscope, thermometer, etc.
- Prescription pad
- First-aid supplies and nonprescription medications
2 | Designate a possible alternate office location
Depending on the emergency, you might need to evacuate. Do some advance research on potential locations where you could continue to care for patients if your primary office has sustained damage or is no longer operational.
You may also want to purchase a generator to use in the event you lose power for an extended period of time.
If your healthcare organization provides in-facility resident care (such as long-term care facilities), evaluate and make decisions on shelter-in-place (SIP) provisions. Doing so helps prepare you for when a disaster occurs (think flood or prolonged power outages).
You should also determine what you plan to do if your community is not accessible to emergency responders, vendors and employees.
3 | Establish backup plans for patient records
More than 80% of physician practices now use electronic health records, so maintaining and protecting this patient data remains critical for your facility.3
You should rely on multiple backup methods for redundancy, keeping the backups stored at an off-site location. Also, make sure you and your staff can easily access the records, so you can continue to provide quality care and treatment.
Backup options include:
- Cloud-based storage
- On-site data storage on redundant systems
- Off-site/remote server
- Portable hard drive/network-attached storage (NAS)
- Flash drive/memory card
Though cloud-based/off-site backup options offer better protection against natural disasters, they require significant internet bandwidth to transmit data efficiently.
Therefore, if your internet service goes down during a disaster, it can impact your data backup and retrieval.3
4 | Include employees in the planning process
Because a crisis affects employees at every level, take a team approach when planning for emergencies. Get employee input and buy-in from the start. Review disaster preparedness plan details with all staff members regularly.
Maintain an updated emergency contact list for all employees, including personal contact information such as cellphone numbers and email addresses. You might need this information to share vital communications during a disaster.
Designate critical staff, volunteer coverage and how to meet staff needs such as transportation to and from work.4
5 | Plan for communication with vital stakeholders
Communicating during and after an emergency can pose many challenges. Determine how and what you might communicate to patients, residents, on-site visitors, family members and the community in a crisis.
Create different messages for each key audience, as their information needs will vary. Proactively hearing from you will inform your audience about what happened and what steps you're taking to handle the situation, as well as reassure them that you're doing everything you can.
Plan for various communications methods, which can include:4
- Direct-dial phone lines: Establish multiple, separate lines for both incoming and outgoing
- Cellphones: You can pre-program phones with vital contact information and use them for emergency calls, texts and voicemail. If computer internet access isn't working, you can also use cellphones as hot spots
- Communication apps: Consider cellphone apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp as alternative (or complementary) modes of communication, especially if landlines don't work
- Email: You can easily segment audiences with internal email lists, such as employees, patients, vendors, etc.
- Social media: Ready.gov offers a Business Emergency Preparedness Social Media Toolkit with safety and preparedness messages ready to customize and share on your company's social media channels. You can also find specific toolkits for some common emergencies, such as flooding, hurricanes and power outages. Think visually for more engaging social media posts by using images, graphics and emojis. And use hashtags for trending topics and your geographic location
- Radios: Radios can come in handy for communication between healthcare facilities or emergency organizations. Handheld radios (with separate frequencies) provide a reliable option for internal use among on-site employees
- Telephone notification systems: When you need to communicate to a mass audience (such as your local community), consider providers such as Everbridge and Send Word Now
6 | Review your plan annually
Perform an internal review of the emergency plan on an annual basis and update if necessary based on factors such as regulatory changes, potential new hazards and budgetary considerations; the Hospital Disaster Preparedness Self-Assessment Tool from the American College of Emergency Physicians is a helpful tool to assist in revising and updating your existing emergency preparedness plan every year — or to lay the foundation for a new one if none exists.
In addition to the above elements, make sure you put strong community partnerships in place.
As a healthcare facility, you serve your local community, making it imperative to build and maintain strong partnerships with other businesses, nonprofits and community organizations. In doing so, you can not only share some of the workload in a disaster, but you can also complement efforts and accomplish in-the-moment tasks more efficiently.
For instance, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) developed a Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) that provides leadership and funding to states to boost the ability of HPP-funded recipients to plan for and respond to major disasters.5
In a nutshell, HPP prepares healthcare delivery systems to save lives by developing healthcare coalitions (HCCs).
Whether you participate in HCCs or simply adopt this collaborative approach, you can cooperate on shared preparedness plans, conduct hands-on exercises and emergency drills and coordinate equipment and supply needs. This team approach helps improve patient outcomes during a disaster and facilitate resilience and recovery for both your business and your community.5
Also, consider these topics in your facility's disaster plan:
- Telehealth and virtual provider interface
- Emergency nutritional supplies
- Personal protective equipment (and gear for highly contaminated locations)
- External access to important procedures and protocols
- Staff fatigue and accommodations
Don't forget to also create a personal and family plan for disaster preparedness. To get help with your plan, go to Ready.gov.
CMS requires disaster planning for certain healthcare providers
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires certain healthcare providers to have disaster preparedness plans in place as a condition for coverage or participation.
The four main elements of an emergency preparedness program include the following:
1. Risk assessment and planning
2. Policies and procedures
3. A communication plan
4. Training and testing
The original rule — published in 2016 — required providers to comply by Nov. 15, 2017, with new revisions to the rule published Sept. 30, 2019.
The Joint Commission (an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies healthcare organizations) or similar organizations verifies a healthcare provider's compliance with the rule.
For example, federal regulations require Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes to create and maintain written emergency plans and provide employees with emergency preparedness training.
CMS published an emergency preparedness checklist that healthcare communities, including nursing homes, can use as emergency response guidelines to develop and update plans.
See below for CMS listed entities for disaster plan requirements*:
- §416.54, Condition for Coverage for Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs)
- §418.113, Condition of Participation for Hospices
- §441.184, Requirement for Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs)
- §460.84, Requirement for Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)
- §482.15, Condition of Participation for Hospitals §482.78, Requirement for Transplant Centers
- §483.73, Requirement for Long-Term Care (LTC) Facilities
- §483.475, Condition of Participation for Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ICF/IID)
- §484.22, Condition of Participation for Home Health Agencies (HHAs)
- §485.68, Condition of Participation for Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (CORFs)
- §485.625, Condition of Participation for Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs)
- §485.727, Conditions of Participation for Clinics, Rehabilitation Agencies, and Public Health Agencies as Providers of Outpatient Physical Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology Services
- §485.920, Condition of Participation for Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs)
- §486.360, Condition of Participation for Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs)
- §491.12, Conditions for Certification for Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) and Conditions for Coverage for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs)
- §494.62, Condition for Coverage for End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Facilities
Emergency preparedness for every emergency
The U.S. Department of Health And Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services provides an extensive emergency preparedness checklist that walks you through everything from developing an emergency plan and collaborating with suppliers/providers to creating an evacuation plan and reviewing your emergency plan annually.
Medications and disaster preparedness
Patient populations that depend on medications to assist with managing chronic illnesses may face difficulties if provider locations are inaccessible or if medications are stored improperly.
- Preparing medication information ahead of time
- Knowing medication storage requirements and stability
Emergency preparedness regulation FAQ
Check out the below frequently asked questions from CMS to learn more about emergency preparedness regulations.
- Documentation requirements
- Risk assessments and documentation
- Policies, procedures and documentation
- Technical corrections
Ready to build or enhance your disaster preparedness plan? We can help. Contact your McKesson Medical-Surgical account manager to help set up your alternate site locations before the event occurs.
* List not all-inclusive
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