Emergency preparedness

RNs are well aware that disaster can come in many forms. Large-scale emergencies can be chaotic and traumatic, and healthcare facilities play a pivotal role as responders. Our workplaces must be well-equipped to meet the needs of patients, staff and the community.

The recent ransomware attack at Erie County Medical Center and the shootings at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital underscore the importance of having a comprehensive emergency preparedness program in place.

In 2016, in an effort to address gaps, establish consistency and encourage coordination, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a new Emergency Preparedness Rule covering nearly all categories of inpatient and outpatient facilities. Healthcare facilities must have an “all-hazards” approach, and programs must include risk assessment and planning, a communications plan, policies and procedures, and training and testing.

According to NYSNA Occupational Health and Safety Representative Lisa Baum, MA, CSP, healthcare facilities are in a unique position in emergency situations because they must have the capacity to address the full spectrum of emergencies—internal, external, natural or man-made.

“Healthcare institutions are not only particularly needed for disasters, but they are particularly vulnerable to disasters,” says Baum. “You have to be prepared both internally and externally. Internally, what happens if we have infrastructure damage or lose emergency services? Externally, what happens if the disaster results in a massive intake of patients?”

Conducting drills

Under the new Emergency Preparedness Rule, healthcare facilities must conduct at least two drills a year. One must be a full-scale drill, complete with emergency services. The other can be a facility-based table-top drill, where participants in a room are presented with a scenario. Because nurses are on the front lines, we must be fully educated about our facilities’ emergency preparedness plans, including regulatory requirements, guidelines and the criteria for disaster risk assessment.

The following emergency preparedness guidelines have been issued by The Joint Commission, a CMS-approved accrediting organization:

  • In the event of an emergency, healthcare facilities must be able to communicate internally and externally despite the possible loss of communication systems;
  • Utilities need to enable the facility to be self-sufficient for as long as possible—with a goal of 96 hours;
  • Supplies must address potential vulnerabilities and be maintained at adequate levels; staff must have clear roles and responsibilities in an emergency;
  • Security measures must be taken to enable normal operations and protect staff and the facility; and
  • There must be a plan in place for maintaining patient care and supporting vulnerable populations, including possible alternate standards of care.

Part of developing an emergency preparedness plan means looking beyond general disasters and determining any potential local risks or emergencies a facility might face. “During H1N1, the emergency rooms were overwhelmed,” says Baum. “You have to have a plan in place for protecting staff because you’re screwed if the public and staff are sick.”

Protecting staff

As nurses, we are known for being dedicated responders who put patient care first. Healthcare facilities must consider that in an emergency, nurses and healthcare workers will need support to be effective.

Says Baum: “Where are they going to sleep? How will they get food? You must consider child and elder care. Pay attention to their families so they can do their jobs. You need to remember that your staff are human beings.”

Healthcare facilities have until November 15 to meet the requirements of the CMS rule and must comply in order to receive federal reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid. Ultimately, Baum feels this is good for both nurses and the public.

“You can’t be too prepared or assume that will never happen to us.”

How you can help Houston now

Mayor Turner establishes Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund

After receiving an overwhelming number of inquiries from citizens and companies who want to help, Mayor Sylvester Turner has established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that will accept tax deductible flood relief donations for victims that have been affected by the recent floods. The fund will be housed at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity.

Donate Now

If you wish to make contributions, please go to ghcf.org.

If you are interested in volunteering to go to Texas to assist in disaster relief, contact the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN): www.national nursesunited.org/site/entry/rnrn

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